A government-funded job training program that promised to turn hundreds of residents of Kentucky’s coal country into computer coders so far has spent $2 million to place 17 people in tech jobs and may have left others worse off, The Daily Signal has learned.
The program, a private-public partnership between state and federal agencies and Interapt, a Louisville-based software development company, is a product of President Barack Obama’s TechHire Initiative of 2015.
The job training program, budgeted for a total of $4.5 million, was supposed to last through 2019 and train up to 200 people from an economically depressed region of Kentucky for middle- to high-skill careers in information technology.
The program paid interns $400 a week to learn how to write software code, and Interapt promised high-paying jobs to those who successfully completed it.
But less than a year later, workers have torn down signs at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, where the program was based, and are closing shop on what appears to be a government-funded program run amok.
A total of 32 of the 49 Kentuckians who originally enrolled in the TechHire program in Eastern Kentucky, known as TEKY, have not obtained jobs in the tech industry, according to government figures.
One, Amanda Tackett, said she left another job at the advice of a TEKY instructor in order to succeed in the program. Tackett says she was cut after just three weeks, before testing even began.
An Interapt spokeswoman, however, said Tackett “left the program of her own accord very early on.”
“I have a 7-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum,” Tackett, 32, told The Daily Signal. “Her Asperger’s leaves her almost nonverbal and [with the] mindset of a 3-year-old. My hopes were to be able to help her, some way, somehow.”
Others who made it through are getting by on internships and government stipends to support their families while they search for a full-time job in Eastern Kentucky.
Over the course of a month, The Daily Signal spoke with eight people who had been enrolled in the TEKY program, some of whom asked for anonymity.
“I was one of the top-performing students during the TEKY program, even tutoring on weekends those [who] were falling behind,” one graduate told The Daily Signal, asking to remain anonymous because he feared retribution. “I am now in a job that has absolutely nothing to do with programming, working in a factory where I had hoped I [would be] able to move beyond.”
Meanwhile, Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal is soliciting more government money in cities and towns across the country to fund similar public-private job training programs.
The Daily Signal requested an interview with Gopal, but he declined. Aly Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the company, however, said they see the program as “a success.”
“There were, however, more challenges than expected when it came to personal development and growth,” Goldberg said, adding:
As we are working to create our next programs both in Kentucky and in other states, we are working to incorporate a plan for helping those that could greatly benefit from basic business environment skills: appropriate dress, hygiene, communication, and more.
Interapt’s version of events differs drastically from those of the agency that oversaw it and most of the program participants interviewed by The Daily Signal.
Jeff Whitehead, executive director for the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program Inc., or EKCEP, the government entity responsible for overseeing the program, said, “Interapt’s hiring results have not been what we expected, and that is unacceptable.” Whitehead added:
As an established technology company searching for additional technology workers, Interapt was our best option at the time for a TEKY1 partnership. However, the company has not lived up to its commitments, nor do we believe it has the ability to meet those expectations in the future. Therefore, we do not anticipate future contracts with the company.
Despite this rating of “unacceptable,” Interapt says on its website that the company is expanding the TechHire program into Louisville, Western Kentucky, and Northwest Wyoming, for which it will need more government funding.
“Based on all the indicators we can obtain, the initial curriculum-delivery portion of TEKY has been successful,” EKCEP’s Whitehead told The Daily Signal, “and our clients in this program have worked incredibly hard, exceeded expectations, and proven what is possible in our region through the faith and grit of its citizens.”
But the program led those enrollees to expect much more.
In early April 2015, Obama promoted his national TechHire initiative in a trip to Louisville.
The next year, in August 2016, two federal agencies and a federal-state partnership called the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a total of $2.75 million to the TEKY program as part of TechHire. The two agencies were the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration and the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration.
According to documents obtained by The Daily Signal, EKCEP contributed an additional $1.5 million, and the Kentucky state government contributed $250,000, for a total of $4.5 million.
Goldberg, the spokeswoman for Interapt, said the company “put $600,000 toward the program,” but she did not provide documentation.
The plan was for Interapt to train 200 students over four years at the Paintsville, Kentucky, branch of Big Sandy Community College, where workers tore down related signs Wednesday.
In September 2016, the first class started with 49 students. By January, when the internship phase of the program began, that number had dwindled to 30, according to EKCEP.
Interapt says on its website that 35 participants were offered jobs during the program or after it ended July 17.
But through requests for public documents and interviews with EKCEP officials, The Daily Signal learned that only 30 participants transitioned in January to the internship phase. Of those 30, only 17 obtained jobs in the tech industry thus far.
Of those 30 who successfully made it to the end of the program, EKCEP said, Interapt hired 13. Interapt, however, claims it offered jobs to 25.
Whitehead, executive director of EKCEP, provided The Daily Signal with what he said are accurate figures. Goldberg, however, said Interapt stands by its figures.
Whitehead suggested that Interapt failed to hold up its end of the bargain. He said EKCEP is doing what it can to place the remaining eight graduates in jobs.
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