Lynchburg's TechHire program serves as a pipeline to employment for those eligible

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A Lynchburg program is taking a different approach on employment. It's called TechHire, and it pairs up employers in the technology sector with candidates who might not have had access to the job market before.

Lynchburg actually received the TechHire designation back in 2015 from the White House.

“We called the White House, they called us back,” said Marjette Upshur, Director of Economic Development and Tourism for the City. After looking into the program further they applied and were a part of the original group of TechHire Cities.

Two years after that phone call Shawn Witcher, a construction worker struggling to find employment, is now working on a piece of wireless technology.
“Is that crazy to you?” “Yeah, very much so, because I didn't even know how to solder. And they have been teaching me.” Said Witcher.

It’s all a result of the TechHire program.

“Finding an employer that's willing to do something new with Workforce Development and finding someone who's willing and able to learn a brand new skill and do something they've never done before,” said Alex Johnston, TechHire Program Manager.

That's the basic rundown of the program. An applicant, like Witcher, has to be a citizen of Lynchburg, 18-29 years old, eligible for SNAP benefits, and not enrolled in post-secondary education full time.

“I was hungry, looking for a job,” said Witcher. “I lost my job with the state after an extended leave for medical reasons. But I was positive, I was upbeat, I knew I was a hard worker.”

A TechHire case manager in the Office of Economic Development will then talk to an employer that they have a relationship with and match the applicant directly: like a pipeline.

“His resume itself we may have just skipped over it, but he's proven to be a valuable asset at IWT,” said Gary Raulerson, Operations Director at Innovative Wireless Technologies, where Witcher is now working full time. “And having this opportunity from the city for us gives us the opportunity to hire someone who is a grad of life and not necessarily a grad of a university.”

Now soldering and engineering are second nature for Witcher. He graduates the program on Friday.

In its first year, five people have been successfully placed. Centra Health is another TechHire employer, but leaders are hoping to expand that employer pool and the people they can help in year two.

“Looking at people as individuals. We're not looking at them as a cohort or as an unemployed population, or people living in poverty. These are people looking for earnest opportunities and for us that happens one person at a time,” said Johnston.