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Help Wanted: Tackling the IT Talent Gap

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On Friday, July 27, our main event for the day was a program at the City Club of Cleveland titled "Help Wanted: Tackling the IT Talent Gap," in which four experts were queried by Ms. Darrielle Snipes, reporter/producer at Ideastream, about solutions for the shortage of workers needed to fill many lucrative IT jobs in Northeast Ohio.

Indeed, as our program notes read, "For the last several years information technology (IT) has been one of America's fastest growing industries. The jobs pay well and have low risk of automation—and yet the supply of skilled workers falls short of the ever increasing demand. Northeast Ohio is not immune to this trend. Our region's aspirations for economic vitality hinge on vibrant health, manufacturing, and technology sectors—all reliant on the availability of a quality IT workforce. However, there aren't enough qualified workers to meet the demand; in 2016 there were more than 12,000 open job postings—and many remain unfilled due to a mismatch between the workers' skills and the employer's needs."

The panel consisted of:

Prior to the start of the discussion, we talked to a person who has a good administrative job but is still taking IT courses on LinkedIn in order to either advance from his present position at the company where he works or begin a new career elsewhere. He believes that one of the issues with IT is that it's just not as well known an occupation as say, being a businessperson or being a manager. 

This view was echoed by the panelists who said that one of the big challenges is getting the word out about the career possibilities of IT and, in order to do this, the concerted effort—which has already begun—between schools and industries, must be intensified. Accordingly, children and parents (who may have to start a second or even third career) must be made aware of its possibilities as a profession, and industries must review their hiring standards to see what is reasonable; for instance, if they want a worker who has 3-5 years practical experience, perhaps that length of time could be lessened by a student's participation in certain curricular projects that display her/his talents and knowledge. 

Unfortunately, as was said in the discussion, IT has the reputation of being dominated mostly by stodgy white males, so special efforts must be made to convince young people of different genders and ethnicities that IT exercises can really be fun as well as fascinating. One of the big challenges, however, is that a school curriculum must be prepared months in advance of being administered, and the IT world is changing all the time. Therefore, organized activities concerning IT must be developed for outside of the classroom with the parents' cooperation, and the leaders of these exercises must be people who have a good sense for both education and business while being able to empathize with the young people.

Issues that were brought up during the Q and A included the importance of the mastery of blockchain technology, the morality and practicality of "stealing" workers other regions, the resources available to older people in need of retraining, the need for better internet access regarding low-income areas so that students will be more equipped to master the technology, and the possibilities for ex-offenders to receive training and be hired the IT industry.

Of course, we asked a question about the potential for foreign-born people, namely international students, to help fulfill the IT Talent Gap because we believe there is room enough for everyone to contribute. We were told that yes, many international students certainly possess the qualifications to be hired by the IT industries, but as we know, the H-1B process is so cumbersome and expensive that a commanding number of employers just don't want to deal with it even though they have positions to be filled.

As a result, many international students earn their degrees from our universities in Northeast Ohio and would love to stay and work here but unfortunately cannot. Thus, they are often snatched up by large conglomerates and their talents put to use elsewhere. As a warning, it was said that it is now a global world and if you push out you will eventually fall behind.     

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC

Aimee Jannsohn