The skills gap among technology professionals and their company's business aspirations is morphing into an opportunity gap as good ideas lie fallow for want of the technology professionals to turn plans into products.
"Companies in the [San Francisco] Bay Area are looking for talent and not finding the right match," says Jay Banfield, the founding executive director of Year Up in the Bay Area. Year Up is an intensive one-year training program designed to take disadvantaged students and prepare them for beginning technology careers. Banfield will be hosting a keynote panel on "Innovating the Skills Divide" at the E2 Innovate conference scheduled for Nov. 12-15 in Santa Clara. He will be joined by some of the Bay Area's top technology executives including Matthew Zeier, senior director of IT for Mozilla>, Debra Chrapaty, CIO of Zynga and Tim Campos, CIO of Facebook.
In surveys, business organizations are finding a profound technology skills gap. In its "State of the IT Skills Gap," published earlier this year, the CompTIA organization found that in the U.S., "The great majority of employers (93%) indicate there is an overall skills gap, the difference between existing and desired skill levels, among their IT staff."
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And that gap, according to the CompTIA study, is hurting business with, "Most (80%) organizations indicate their IT skills gap affects at least one business area such as staff productivity (41%), customer service/customer engagement (32%), and security (31%).
One of the more curious aspects of the onrush of new technologies and the tech skills gap is that in the current economic and political climate where a stubborn unemployment percentage of about 8% (a percentage that has become a political cause celebre), tech jobs are going unfilled. "We are creating unfilled jobs. We have a shortage. This shortage is going to get worse. It's a problem that's approaching dimensions of a genuine crisis," Microsoft Counsel Brad Smith told a Brooking Institution panel recently. Smith contended that the U.S. economy is producing 120,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) jobs each year, yet U.S. colleges are only producing one-third of the needed degree students in the STEM fields.
Year Up is one organization that aims to help close the technology gap through a one-year intensive technology, business, and career development course for disadvantaged students with the goal of preparing them for entry level positions in tech support, quality assurance, and data center operations. The organization has more than 3,500 alumni and a remarkable success rate: 100% of qualified students are placed in internships, 95% of interns meet or exceed expectations, 84% are employed full time or are in college within four months of graduation, and the average hourly wage of $15 for graduates is far above the minimum wage level.
"We saw the need for a creative way to develop a pipeline of talent" says Banfield. Creating a program that equips Year Up students with the talents to make themselves appealing to employers has been fundamental in the program's success in the Bay Area. Twenty-four companies including some of the area's marquis names (Facebook, LinkedIn, Salesforce, eBay among them) are taking part in the Year Up internship and hiring programs.
While the technology skills are important, business, presentation, and social skills are also vital pieces of the Year Up program, says Banfield.
Closing the skills gap, forecasts of what skills will be required in the future, and how to restructure educational and business training programs to fill that gap will be the subject of Banfield's keynote panel at this year's inaugrual E2 Innovate event.