Written by: Felicia Ingram

Jackson, Tennessee, along with seventy-two other communities across the nation, is a TechHire city. But what does that mean? For CO:member and local business owner Austin Thompson and theCO’s Dev Catalyst program, it means an opportunity to create opportunity for young tech talent in the area.

The TechHire initiative was created by the Obama Administration in 2015. The project, however, lives on today. Its main mission is to support the growing technology fields in the nation. Cities selected have shown dedication to supporting training for technology-related jobs and companies that strive to create a more diverse workplace. The initiative is currently under Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit organization designed to empower Americans in today's economic world.

"As a TechHire city, Jackson is committed to developing untapped tech talent,” Molly Plyler, theCO’s Education Outreach Coordinator, explained. “This raw talent can be found in a variety of groups. Our community chooses to focus our efforts on West Tennessee middle and high school students." 

This summer, high school students Peyton Anderson and Will Taylor are working for Thompson, the entrepreneur behind Random Pieces of Wood and Thompson Industries. Taylor, who is interning specifically for Random Pieces of Wood, credits Dev Catalyst for teaching him the essentials in task management.

“I think it’s taught me to be task-oriented, and really once I start a project to be focused and able to complete a project that is good quality,” Taylor explained. “It has also given me good coding skills that I use on the job.” 

Along with coding, Taylor uses makerspace technology to create products for Random Pieces of Wood, most often the laser cutter and etcher.

Plyler says that for Dev Catalyst the recent hiring is right along with its objectives.

“It is our goal to provide students with the coding skills, as well as the professional skills, to make them highly sought-after employees,” she said. “To have local businesses eager to hire Dev Catalyst students lets us know that the program is achieving its goal."

This training places Dev Catalyst students in a position for success out of high school. 

"Through [the] program, local schools are able to offer coding courses, receive training for tech teachers, and enter students into the Dev Catalyst competition for a chance to win an all-expense-paid trip to San Francisco,” Plyler added.

Taylor admits that without the Dev Catalyst program, he wouldn’t have the same career outlet as a teenager.

“I’d probably be working in retail or in a restaurant or something,” Taylor said. “It wouldn’t be something as cool as this for sure.”

For Peyton Anderson, the Thompson Industries-specific intern, Dev Catalyst broadened his entire career scope. 

“I didn't even know what [coding] was. I thought it was way too hard to get into,” he explained. “My teacher Kimberly Colbert [. . .] actually got me to try the class, and that's when I really got into it.”

Now Anderson is using his skills to help Thompson discover new ways to connect his clients to their customers through social media. 

For Thompson, the hires give him a chance to expand his business while pouring into others.

“[W]ith the Dev Catalyst program, I wanted to be able to hire in some students that were part of this era and give them a job—an actual paying job—that was also going to teach them so that we have children who are coming up as part of this initiative, and they were getting, I guess, pleasant or favorable experiences with local companies,” Thompson concluded.