Help-desk analyst was the job title, paying in the low-$40,000 annual range.

The winning candidate for the position at Reed Technology & Information Services Inc. in Horsham did not have a college degree, or even years of experience.

Instead, she had completed a 16-week training program, passing a test certifying her in CompTIA A+, a commonly recognized credential in the world of technology.

That, plus a five-week internship, which was part of the program, was enough to take her from "disadvantaged youth" to middle-class and employed.

President Obama did not tell her story or Reed's in his speech Monday before the National League of Cities conference in Washington, but it would have fit the message.

"I want to focus on something very specific," Obama said, talking to 2,000 mayors and municipal leaders, "and that is how can we work together to build a pipeline of tech workers for this new economy."

Obama's remarks were intended to launch a new initiative, TechHire, and a $100 million national best-practices competition.

"Employers tend to recruit people with technology degrees from four-year colleges," Obama said. "And that means sometimes they end up screening out good candidates who don't necessarily have traditional qualifications. . . . They've got the talent but employers are missing them."

As employers complain about shortages of technically proficient workers, the idea is to use government funding, in partnership with money from companies and foundations to set up more streamlined training programs.

If someone, such as the young woman who ended up at Reed, can get enough training to get in the door, that person may be able to tap into company tuition reimbursement programs to wind up with a bachelor's degree.

"She worked for us for a year and a half," said David Ballai, Reed's chief information officer. The only reason she is not still there and advancing, he said, is that her husband found a job in another city.

The woman at Reed got her job through ITWorks, an initiative for disadvantaged youth in Philadelphia and Delaware that has already placed about 200 young people in jobs, said Patrick Callihan, director of Tech Impact.

Similar programs are already in the works in Delaware and Philadelphia, both listed as partners for the TechHire program.

In Delaware, for example, Barclaycard takes graduates of the ITWorks program and puts them into a two-year apprenticeship program, previously acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Credit card company Capital One's foundation is spending $150 million to fund these kind of programs for its own benefit, but also to build a larger tech pipeline.

Philadelphia Works, the government-funded workforce development agency, has been convening meetings of area employers, including Comcast Corp. and Peco, to implement a similar program, with the first class of 20 students - not just disadvantaged youth - to begin May 4.

Employer participation is key, said Mark Edwards, who heads Philadelphia Works. Employers need to agree on exactly what certifications - the CompTIA A+ or basic Java, for example - are most important.

Then, he said, they have to be willing to take a risk and not rely exclusively on a bachelor's degree as a key hiring credential.

"We're asking them to use this nontraditional approach," Edwards said.



Percent of middle-skill jobs that require spreadsheet and word-processing capabilities.


Percentage growth of middle-skill jobs requiring digital expertise between 2003 and 2013.


Percentage growth of other middle-skill jobs, same period.


Hourly pay for middle-skill jobs with digital skills.

SOURCE: Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston research organization.