From McDonald’s to the NSA

Written by Robert Epstein on . Posted in Op-Ed

With every new technological innovation, thousands of new jobs are created and new skills are needed. As a co-founder of AboutWeb, an information technology (IT) government contractor based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, I became increasingly concerned over the years that people in economically-challenged areas were getting left out of the ongoing technology boom. IT jobs were filled by foreign workers, and I wondered whether these IT jobs could be filled by unemployed Americans with a little bit of training; many of these IT positions don’t even require a degree.

The need to fill technology jobs, specifically with cybersecurity professionals, will continue to grow exponentially in the coming decade; the problem is that there are not enough qualified people to fill all these jobs.Therein lies the opportunity.Many economically-challenged individuals actually live in close proximity to these thriving technology companies. Instead of reaching out to train and develop workers right in their backyard and create jobs for American citizens, these companies have looked outside the U.S. for talent.

Because of my heritage and upbringing, I learned from a very early age about the importance of giving back and helping to make the world a better place. I felt it was time to take some action and created AboutWeb Cares. The goal is to empower people in economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods by retraining and retooling their skills and giving them on-the-job experience to help them find good jobs with opportunities for advancement. American companies will benefit from hiring local talent, which will allow them to continue to create high-paying American jobs, and they will give individuals the opportunity to break the cycle of generational poverty, provide these workers with dignity, and give them a chance at a better life. Our motto at AboutWeb Cares is “Building skills, empowering people, one job at a time.”

Through my AboutWeb Cares program, I hire employees on a part-time basis and pay them to come into the office and train in IT skills. They spend a portion of their day in a classroom learning and the other time doing on-the-job training. I utilize a two-plus-one hiring model: For every two employees of AboutWeb that we deploy onto a billable contract, I use a portion of those funds to hire another new employee into the program. In other words, I make a little less profit but change a life!

My goal is to transition these part-time training hires into a full-time IT roles, thus giving them a chance to break out of their dead-end minimum wage jobs and into new, higher-paying, and growth-oriented IT positions. I like to say, we’re helping people go from McDonald’s to the NSA (National Security Agency).

Now, I have nothing against bringing in international talent with specialized skills for certain functions, but this has become the norm and not the exception. As a result, overseas employees receive the huge benefit of continuous, on-the-job training and learning, while leaving our local unskilled workers further and further behind. I think this is not only wrong, but shortsighted. If companies just took the time to train people properly in their local areas, this would ultimately empower individuals to be qualified for high-paying, high-demand jobs, reduce the need for government assistance, and change the course of their lives for the better.

If I can inspire every one of my fellow IT owners to try this model, we could drastically reduce poverty and crime, reduce burdens on state and federal government assistance programs (which could mean lower taxes), protect our country from cyber-attacks, and — the best part — change someone’s life and lift their family out of generational poverty forever. 

I currently have 14 people in the program and want to expand to 100 people by the end of 2019. To celebrate our growth, we recently marked the grand opening of our new Baltimore City IT and Jobs Training Center, which can accommodate 24 trainees on a rotating basis. At our ribbon-cutting ceremony, we received a recognition award from Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office as well as representation from the offices of Sen. Ben Cardin, Gov. Larry Hogan, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Mayor Catherine Pugh, and other community leaders who have been very supportive of the idea. AboutWeb is also looking to partner with local government organizations and nonprofits to bring in a stream of potential workers for the program.

If we can get folks excited and help them to see possibilities where they never saw possibilities before, then we’re doing our job and also filling positions with American workers — a true win-win.

By Robert Epstein