A growing event photography company in Kansas City is looking to the past to find the tech talent it needs to build its future.
SportsPhotos.com founder Brandon Schatz is a small-business participant in the Full Employment Council’s “Reboot U” program, which provides technology training for the chronically unemployed. Schatz’s company manages photos for sporting events, requiring it to manage terabytes of information from customers and freelance photographers.
Schatz said he looked to the Reboot U program as an opportunity to tap experienced technologists that could help his company grow.
“There are people in an older age range who have an aptitude for tech but who haven’t been exposed to modern languages and skills,” Schatz said. “My feeling is that there are all kinds of tech needs throughout the city, and we are going to need as many kinds of people as possible to meet those needs.”
Schatz interviewed a number of “Reboot U” participants before extending internship offers to two candidates at the FEC’s 2014 recruiting event. Candidates who accept offers from participating companies embark on eight- to 12-week paid internships, spending two days a week in classes developed by the University of Central Missouri and Metropolitan Community College.
One of Schatz’s interns, Phil Huffman, said he was relieved to be returning to what he does best.
“I am first and foremost a software developer,” Huffman said. “I heard about Reboot U through the Full Employment Council, and the timing was perfect.”
The candidates spend the rest of their week at the company where they are placed. For Schatz, this means immersing them in additional learning rather than working on a specific project.
Huffman would spend two days a week in class, and the remainder immersing himself in SportPhotos’ technology. That new work required additional instruction, apart from specific projects, Schatz said.
“I had them learn other things besides their course work,” Schatz said of his interns. “I put them on a learning path that was really specific to what we do. We were throwing all kinds of stuff at them at once.”
At the end of the internship, Schatz offered Huffman a full-time position. Huffman now helps Schatz with SportsPhotos.com and his other company, Great Web Development.
“I consider myself to be extremely fortunate,” Huffman said of landing his new gig. “It was clear that (Schatz) was a fine technician with a lot of drive. That’s what won me over.”
Schatz’s newest employee symbolizes the fruition of work he invested more than two years ago. Schatz and other professionals in the Kansas City startup community collaborated with the Full Employment Council to outline skills that are in high demand in the area. The group also identified the curriculum that would help retrain people in various computer languages and skills.
Eventually — on March 9 — Kansas City joined 20 other cities nationwide as a participant in TechHire, which is President Obama’s initiative to train and place people into technology jobs. Now a handful of local companies provide job-specific training and employment opportunities, including Think Big Partners, Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, University of Kansas Medical Center and Wireco World Group.
“We all need to work together to meet the tech needs that we all have,” Schatz said. “The city has done a great job of streamlining the process to help companies get access to these grants, but it is important to go into it with the mindset that the point is to train people. It takes a lot of work to get candidates to where they need to be to be productive for you and your company.”
This article was written by freelance reporter Toby Truog. A community builder and seeker of entrepreneurial stories, Toby works as a marketing and business development professional. Follow him at @ttruog, or visit him while he serves as a community organizer for 1 Million Cups.