C-Suite Advisory

3 Strategies for Building a Regional Technology Talent Ecosystem

Jeff Mazur

Talent development is central to all regional business ecosystems.

It’s not just a key element in maintaining and boosting growth for existing companies. In fact, it’s also the primary factor in attracting new businesses to a region and keeping them there. And today — with every company competing for the technology talent that can retain its edge — it’s imperative that regional ecosystems are flush with skilled programmers and developers.

When examining cities with an abundance of tech talent, we tend to see thriving economic environments and opportunities beyond company growth. This makes sense: Tech is one of the biggest economic contributors in almost any geographic area, and this is mostly due to its significant integration in other sectors.

With the rapid growth of emerging technologies, this trend is sure to continue. In its 2018 analysis of the United States tech industry, CompTIA found that tech is one of the top five contributors to economic growth in 22 states (and among the top 10 in all but eight states). Besides this, the number of information technology employees is expected to grow faster than any other occupation on average.

This growth doesn’t have to be disproportionately concentrated on the coasts. Many other regions have the potential to become tech industry hubs, but it will take quality human capital to stimulate such regional development. To create stronger talent pools, then, business leaders should expand their focus toward building shared regional talent ecosystems rather than simply addressing their own hiring needs.

This strategy works well, and it’s known as cluster-based economic development. Here, a cluster represents a group of geographically connected companies that share similar regional challenges and interests. The healthiest economic clusters cultivate homegrown talent with regional roots and a desire to stay put.

Why Cooperation Is Key

In many of the cities my organization has worked in, we’ve seen a disconnect between business and city leaders and technical training providers. This lack of collaboration presents a significant barrier in creating a regional plan that benefits everyone.

Education and training providers can’t address the talent gap without understanding the needs of companies. It’s up to cities and businesses to provide communication and support in order to help training providers solve the tech talent deficit.

Our training program is successful in St. Louis, for instance, because we collaborate with city and state leaders. We also partner with other training providers to prepare more individuals for new roles in tech each year. This kind of collaboration answers the needs of regional companies and ensures that our graduates can fill empty positions.

Another common barrier to regional talent development is a lack of accessible work options for those who don’t have the traditional credential: a four-year computer science degree from a college or university. When building a regional workforce development plan, this should also be at the forefront of the conversation. Nontraditional candidates with the aptitude to learn and hone much needed skills shouldn’t be left behind in the scuffle for talent.

Cultivating a Regional Talent Pool Starts Here

Developing a more robust regional talent ecosystem requires leadership and action from the businesses that need these workers. If you’re considering a cluster-based talent-development plan, consider incorporating the following strategies:

  1. Communicate talent needs to training providers. Mismatched skill sets are a major factor creating gaps between tech job openings and regional technologists. Research suggeststhat even when companies succeed in attracting tech applicants, inadequate or mismatched ability is a common reason for hiring managers to reject them.
    When regional workers don’t have the required abilities, companies should work with education and training providers to equip the workforce with those skills. Look for opportunities to communicate and collaborate with both traditional and nontraditional education and training providers.
  2. Support more accessible training programs. A four-year degree in tech is no longer an accessible optionfor many individuals, but there are countless talented programmers with no college degree and little to no work experience. Unfortunately, many are restricted to freelancing because they lack specific educational credentials.
    Business leaders should take a regional approach to creating and supporting training programs that provide an alternative to traditional educational pathways. This includes a commitment to hiring graduates of these programs and sourcing talent based on skill instead of degrees.
  3. Implementan apprenticeship model. We already know how impactfulapprenticeship programs can be. In fact, every dollar spent on apprenticeship yields a $1.47 return on productivity. These models work because they remove risks from the hiring process. On one side, managers have a trial period to decide whether the worker would be an effective full-time hire. On the other, workers learn new skills and are compensated.

All in all, apprenticeships are an incredibly effective way for regional business leaders to collaborate on new training-to-job pipelines — especially when they want to get nontraditional talent in the door. They provide companies with opportunities to develop highly skilled workers, boost productivity, and reduce turnover rates and recruitment expenses.

Nearly every company needs skilled tech workers in today’s digital landscape. It’s imperative, then, that talent ecosystems level out with candidates who possess the skills needed by companies across the board. When you collaborate with local leaders and have a more holistic view of a regional economic ecosystem, the talent pool can thrive and meet the ongoing needs of local businesses.

Written by Jeff Mazur.

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Jeff Mazur
Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. Jeff Mazur is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.