Frank Witsil| Detroit Free Press

Sajan Pillai, the CEO of UST Global, sees women — especially minority women — as a key to solving the problem of not having enough information technology workers and is betting more than 100 million dollars of his company’s money on it.

Pillai, who came to Detroit from India at 22, said Tuesday that Step IT Up America (a play on the abbreviation of information technology) is aimed at training and putting a thousand minority women to work in the information technology jobs this year — and more by 2020.

“This is not a handout program; this is giving a helping hand,” he said in a ballroom at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit filled with about 100 business and government leaders. “There is a big difference between the two.”

In May, the program will begin training (with pay) about 100 women in Detroit and will offer graduates full-time jobs. Two other cities — Atlanta and Philadelphia — already launched programs, and seven others will start later this year.

Initially, Detroit was not among cities where the program would be rolled out, but it was added, Pillai said, because the company got so many calls from Michigan requesting it.

UST Global, which is based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., is covering the cost of the program, about $10 million-$15 million per city, Pillai said.

By 2020, the company aims to put 5,000 women to work in IT nationally.

Pillai and others explained how the program came together and highlighted its potential to create prosperity for Americans and change their lives.

A few years ago, when UST Global was expanding into Mexico, it used a similar model to train 30,000 IT workers.

Natalie Frazier, who is in the program in Atlanta, said that before she started the class, she lacked confidence and a job and knew nothing about technology.

At one point in her life, she said, she was even homeless.

“I stand before you today, and can tell you, I’m an IT professional,” the 48-year-old said.

Candyce Lewis, 27, of Stone Mountain, Ga., said she is getting paid $12 an hour to go to classes in Atlanta. The program has helped her realize that she could have a job in a field where she had seen few women succeed. She said it had changed her life.

Carlos Gutierrez, former CEO of Kellogg and U.S. secretary of commerce, praised the program and pointed out that while it benefits the company, it also is a “new corporate social responsibility model” that he’d love to see other companies adopt.

Pillai added he got inspiration for the program from his mother, who sought to be a doctor and had the fire to do it, but ended up working for the government because she just didn’t have the opportunity.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or

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