Perspectives

A Skills Gap? No, an Outreach Gap

Tech industry needs to look toward minorities, immigrants and educators to solve the shortage of skilled workers

By Tom Goettl
Tue, 2017-05-16 14:22

Ask any technology and advanced manufacturing executive what causes their insomnia and they’ll quickly mention the lack of skilled tech candidates. The dire concerns of our last recession seem a hundred years past. The new anxiety is over lost sales, missed deadlines and exploding outsourcing expenditures, because companies lack qualified professionals to fill their technical positions. From mobile technology to building architecture to manufacturing companies, no segment is immune to the depleted inventory of tech candidates. This supply and demand imbalance has caused increased salary expenses and disruptive turnover as key employees are poached by competitors. Anyone who’s advertised for skilled candidates lately hears nothing but crickets in return. Veterans of the Talent War of 1997–2000 thought they’d never see a job market like that again. How wrong we were.

Meanwhile, a recent Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development study found 22% of our current workforce will retire within 10 years. Add to that the much smaller Generation M and Z workforce and a U.S. government trend toward decreased immigration numbers, and you’ll see our skills gap is here to stay. Even if hiring numbers are stagnant in the years ahead, we are losing ground each year as older workers retire and are replaced with much less experienced and smaller numbers of new tech and manufacturing employees.  

There are several areas where we can work to improve our immediate need to alleviate this shortage and plan for the increasing shortages in the years ahead. Like many aspects of running a business, they are simple, but not easy, solutions.  

Outreach to diverse groups: A recent McKinsey and Company study found that companies with a diverse workforce were 35% more likely to outperform their less-diverse competitors. The study suggests a more diverse company will inherently be more successful at attracting higher-caliber professionals, and secure and retain more customers. Considering our increasingly global business relationships, this comes as no surprise.  A recent Minnesota Department of Economic Security found a disparity of minority unemployment of up to 10%. These minority candidates are eager to learn new skills, continue learning and add value to our companies. Local organizations such as Society of Hispanic Engineers, Women in Technology and Blacks in Technology Meetup are eager to engage with our business community and discuss advancing common goals.

4 tips for tech outreach

1. A diverse workforce increases a company’s ability to attract higher qualified candidates while outperforming competitors.

2. Consider increased hiring legal work visa holders from our immigrant community.

3. Educating our middle and high school students about the exciting careers in tech and manufacturing will help our economy in the years ahead

4. Rapid Training Programs must be increased to meet the growing demand for skilled professionals

Outreach to immigrants: There are thousands of brilliant legal immigrants with work visas in Minnesota looking for new opportunities. Many are civil war refugees and religious asylum visa-holders who are eager to restart their livelihood and careers in Minnesota. According to Mncompass.org, 14% of our immigrants hold advanced degrees including Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). Immigrants with these high-demand degrees are eagerly awaiting our outreach and the chance to make a difference in area companies. The difficult part for tech and manufacturing companies is navigating the confusing web of paperwork and hurdles to legally hire these professionals.  Luckily, organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Foreign Labor Unite are here to help navigate this process. 

Outreach to educators:  As the forecast of decreasing older workers and fewer new employees hits home in the years ahead, we must plan now to help our own companies and the local economy. The discrepancy between women and men in these critical fields is decades in the making and won’t be recalibrated easily or quickly. When asking middle- and high-school girls about their dreams, manufacturing and information technology careers are not what immediately comes to their minds. We must first educate middle school teachers, counselors and parents about the exciting fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for girls and boys alike. Furthermore, we must reach out to colleges and universities to highlight the incredible technical careers we offer. We will need highly skilled employees more than ever in the years ahead.   

Outreach with rapid training programs: Most tech companies need qualified candidates immediately. Not next year or in 2-4 years, but today. The successful Right Skills Now national program has helped thousands of companies train employees in new manufacturing skills. Students gain college credit while companies gain technically skilled employees. This model needs to be expanded to include technical skills training in software coding, computer-aided design and robotics engineering. This expansion will enable a better pipeline of qualified technical employees for our growing companies.  4 tips for tech outreach A diverse workforce increases a company’s ability to attract higher qualified candidates while outperforming competitors. Consider increased hiring legal work visa holders from our immigrant community. Educating our middle and high school students about the exciting careers in tech and manufacturing will help our economy in the years ahead Rapid Training Programs must be increased to meet the growing demand for skilled professionals

 

AUTHOR BIO

Tom Goettl is vice president of Edina-based technical recruiting firm, George Konik Associates