Training program

Training program helps put Fort Worth on the map as a tech hub for women

Sarah Jacques of Fort Worth was looking for a job when a social media ad caught her eye.

The announcement was for a training program for a career in information technology (IT). The unemployed 21-year-old saw this as her ticket to escape low-wage office work to a well-paying job with potential for advancement.

“I wanted to make a transition and always thought about getting into IT because of the opportunities,” she said.

Jacques is enrolled in a computer user support specialist training program that will help her achieve her goal and join the legions of women choosing to pursue careers in a field long dominated by men.

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Computer science is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the country, and Fort Worth is quickly emerging as a rising star and one of the top cities for women in the industry.

A 2022 study of “Best (and Worst) Cities for Women in Tech” by smart asset ranked Fort Worth sixth best, down from 18e place a year ago.

The consumer financial news website cited Fort Worth for substantial job growth in the tech industry, which grew 26.5% between 2017 and 2020. Women make up 27.3% of the Fort Worth’s technological strength and average income after housing costs is $52,651.

Additionally, the gender pay gap is narrow in Fort Worth, with female workers earning 94.3% of what men earn. Houston, ranked third, was the only other city in Texas to make SmartAsset’s top 15 cities for women in tech. The ranking was based on a comparison of 59 cities based on metrics such as the gender pay gap, salary, women as a percentage of the tech workforce, and tech job growth.

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“Fort Worth has been very intentional about growing its technology workforce,” said Judy McDonald, executive director of Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County. “We are happy to get this recognition of our results.”

The Tarrant County agency is one of 28 development councils in the state that operates under the auspices of the Texas Workforce Commission to connect employers with job seekers, especially the unemployed.

While the agency works across industries, technology has become one of the most in-demand by employers and one of the most sought-after by job seekers due to the entry-level salary that starts at around $50,000 per year.

“We are a growing region – Fort Worth is the 13e biggest city in the country – and with all these people and businesses moving here, there’s more demand for tech workers because every business uses technology,” McDonald said.

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“Technology breeds more technology and the need for more workers in this field,” she said.

For many women, the allure of the tech industry has grown exponentially since the pandemic began. Not only does the industry pay better than many jobs in retail, office work and hospitality, it often comes with the benefit of working from home.

“Remote work has become more important for women during the pandemic due to childcare challenges and the need for flexibility that working from home provides.” said McDonald. “It remains a problem for many women.”

Additionally, during the pandemic, many women have been able to take online courses and gain certification to work in entry-level tech jobs such as IT helpdesk specialist/end-user support.

Many women, as well as men, have taken advantage of free digital training programs to earn certifications and credentials during the pandemic, according to McDonald’s.

Tarrant County is an initiative that provides free online career courses to county residents seeking employment or opportunities for advancement. Federal funding supports career training programs available in several high-demand fields, including business administration and health care, as well as computer science.

Skillup offers over 20 different types of IT courses, some of which can be completed in a few months and end with a certificate.

Jacques is taking an IT Help Desk/End User Support Specialist course at Texas Premier Technology Institute (TPTI) in Arlington in a combination of in-person and virtual format.

The institute contracts with the Texas Workforce Commission to provide computer courses in locations across the state. In Tarrant County, the institute works with Workforce Solutions of Tarrant County and Tarrant County College to train future IT professionals and guide them through job interviews and the hiring process.

TPTI offers a variety of courses, ranging from entry-level to more advanced programs that prepare students for jobs such as IT security administration, database administrator, software solutions developer, or private cloud administrator.

Therelee Washington, CEO of TPTI and a 30-year veteran of the IT industry, said students are increasingly choosing to take more advanced courses, including many women. Some of those jobs require salaries of $70,000 or more, he said.

In Jacques’ entry class, the majority of students are women.

“We saw a tech trend for women before the pandemic, but it’s really blossomed since then and it’s still going,” Washington said. “Computer science used to be a male-dominated field, but that’s no longer the case.”

For Claudia Monreal Torres, 47, Jacques’ classmate, the entry class is a way for her to get back into the tech field. The Mexico native worked in IT in her home country, but hasn’t been able to since moving to Arlington.

But now that she has American citizenship and learned to speak English, she is ready to return to work in IT. The class helps him hone his skills and learn new ones.

“I’m very passionate about computing,” she said. “I’m happy to be in this class.”

After being laid off from a job at Walmart during the pandemic, Mavis Koney, 54, has been unable to find another. The native of Ghana, West Africa also saw a notice of free IT training and arranged to attend the course.

Koney hopes to land a well-paying job so she can afford to move her son from Africa to Arlington.

“I don’t want to fight anymore,” she said.

Along with training opportunities, there is additional support for women to become IT or biotech entrepreneurs with support from TechFW, a business accelerator and incubator.

A partnership between the Center for Women Entrepreneurs at Texas Woman’s University and TechFW is helping women learn how to develop business plans and access capital.

A separate partnership between Satori Capital and TechFW is offering five $1,000 prizes for women entrepreneurs to participate in TechFW’s business accelerator program.

“Bringing more women into the tech industry is a positive trend and we want to embrace and support it,” said Hayden Blackburn, executive director of TechFW.