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

Learning IT (Photo by Shauna Jackson, Workforce Solutions)

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

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

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

Jacques is enrolled in a training program for computer user support specialists that will help her achieve her goal and join the legions of women who are choosing careers in a field that was long dominated by men.

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IT is one of the fastest-growing employment sectors in the nation and Fort Worth is quickly establishing itself as a rising star and one of the best cities for women in the industry.

A 2022 study of the “Best (and Worst) Cities for Women in Tech” by SmartAsset ranked Fort Worth sixth best, up from 18th place a year ago.

The consumer financial information website cited Fort Worth for substantial tech industry employment growth, which rose 26.5 percent between 2017 and 2020. Women account for 27.3 percent of Fort Worth’s tech force and average income after housing costs is $52,651.

Also, the wage gap between men and women is narrow in Fort Worth, with women workers earning 94.3 percent of what men do. Houston, ranking third, was the only other city in Texas to make SmartAsset’s top 15 best cities for women in tech. The rankings were based on a comparison of 59 cities in metrics such as gender gap pay, salary, women as a percentage of the tech workforce and tech employment growth.

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

The Tarrant County agency is one of the 28 development boards across 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 all sectors, tech has become one of the most in-demand for employers and one of the most desirable for job seekers because of the entry-level pay that begins at about $50,000 a year.

“We are a fast-growing area – Fort Worth is the 13th largest city in the country – and with all these people and companies moving here, there is more demand for tech workers because every company uses technology,” McDonald said.

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

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

“Remote work became more important to women during the pandemic because of childcare challenges and the need for flexibility that working from home provides.” McDonald said. “Those remain issues for many women.”

Besides, during the pandemic, many women were able to take online classes and earn a credential to work in entry-level tech jobs such as IT Help Desk/End User Support specialist.

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

Skillup Tarrant County is an initiative that provides free online career classes available to county residents seeking jobs or advancement opportunities. Federal funding supports vocational programs available in several high-demand fields, including business administration and health care, as well as IT.

Skillup offers more than 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 in-person and virtual format.

The institute contracts with the Texas Workforce Commission to provide IT classes in locations across the state. In Tarrant County, the institute collaborates with Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County and Tarrant County College to train prospective IT workers and guide them through job interviews and the hiring process.

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

Therelee Washington, CEO of TPTI and a 30-year veteran of the information technology industry, said students increasingly choose to take more advanced courses, including many women. Some of these jobs command salaries of $70,000 or more, he said.

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

“We were seeing tech trending for women before the pandemic but it has really blossomed since then and it is continuing,” Washington said. “IT used to be male-dominated field but it isn’t that way anymore.”

For Claudia Monreal Torres, 47, a classmate of Jacques, the entry-level class is a way for her to get back into the technology field. The native of Mexico worked in IT in her home country but has not been able to do so since moving to Arlington.

But now that she is working toward her U.S. citizenship and has been learning to speak English, she is ready to get back to work in IT. The class helps her polish her skills and learn some new ones.

“I am very passionate about IT,” she said. “I am happy to be in this class.”

After being laid off from a job with Walmart during the pandemic, Mavis Koney, 54, has been unsuccessful finding another one. The native of Ghana, West Africa, also saw a notice about free IT training and arranged to attend the class.

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

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

Besides training opportunities, there is further support for women who wish to become IT or biotech entrepreneurs with support from TechFW, a accelerator and business incubator.

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

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

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