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Are You Ready to Take on the Skills Gap?

The time is now for business, government, and educational groups to work together to develop qualified candidates for tech jobs.
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I have good news and bad news. My 15-year-old technology services firm, Tribridge, added 200 positions in 2013, and we are looking to hire even more people in 2014. The problem is not with our current growth trajectory or company vision. What’s keeping me up at night is wondering where my future team members will come from and how I’m going to scale the business to meet market demand. Like many entrepreneurs, I’m facing a very real shortage of highly skilled talent.

Something Has to Give

The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7 percent for December, down from 7.9 percent for the same month in 2012. The number is moving in the right direction, but why are millions of Americans still on the bench when there are so many job openings? One third of those unemployed have been jobless for more than six months.

My HR and recruiting teams are working diligently to attract candidates with the right blend of leadership, cultural fit, and technical knowledge. For every potential good fit they find, there are several more applicants who are employable but lack the specific skill sets, like cloud architecture or programming, needed to hit the ground running.

Our situation is far from unique. I’ve had conversations with countless entrepreneurs across the country who share the same frustrations. As business owners, we are doing our part to stimulate the economy, put innovative products and services on the market, and create jobs, only to be challenged with a skills gap we aren’t equipped to manage. Something has to give, and the answer isn’t to steal talent from the competition.

We Aren’t Moving Fast (or Big) Enough

Do a search on “technical skills gap” and you’ll get about 11 million results. Academics and politicians are debating the effects of dealing with so many unfilled positions, and the government is grappling with how to help underemployed groups like veterans. Business communities across the country are trying to wrap their arms around the problem, too.

In my area, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, an organization dedicated to expanding the local tech community, recently released a report in conjunction with the Tampa Bay IT Workforce that found the Tampa Bay market has approximately 4,000 open technical positions, with a projected 4,400 additional ones coming by 2019. In response to the findings, the TBTF, with the support of local companies and economic development groups, launched Grow Tampa Bay Tech to help develop talent by building partnerships between businesses and educational institutions.

Several Fortune 100 companies are doing their part as well. In a recent three-part review of the technology skills gap in America on CIO.com, author Gary Beach highlights the efforts of AT&T, Cisco, Microsoft, and others to develop STEM-based educational programs targeting students in high school and even lower grades. IBM, for example, launched a technical education degree program with City College of New York and the New York City Department of Education, called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or PTECH. Students graduate from what the program calls the 14th grade with a high school diploma and an associate degree in applied science.

The IBMs of the world can take such measures, but where does that leave the vast majority of us in the private sector seeking talent? We are headed in the right direction but not fast enough or on a grand enough scale. There is a disconnect between the growing bodies of research on the talent gap and existing training programs, which aren’t developing the skills we need right now.

I’m Calling for a Movement Starting ASAP

Most jobs in the U.S. are created by small to medium-size businesses. So how do we prepare the work force for the positions we need to fill now and in the future? We need a holistic approach, and collaboration is the only way it’s going to happen. If we pooled our resources, we could collectively attract, train, and retain the quality and volume of workers we desperately need. I’m calling for a movement.

Let’s put a plan in place to address the problem. I propose a public-private partnership between the federal government, educational institutions, and private companies. The government provides funding for American workers to be trained for available jobs. The educational groups work closely with private companies to define the specific skills required and recruit workers who want training. The private companies commit to putting newly trained people to work. If I agree to hire 50 people, and you do the same, then we are tying training dollars to actual jobs. It’s our opportunity to help veterans with great leadership skills or accountants who have business acumen get back into the work force.

We are on a time crunch. The longer it takes us to bridge the skills gap, the more sluggish the economy will be in the short term. The eventual ramifications of an ill-prepared work force could be catastrophic to our country. I’m ready to take action now. The future of my business--and yours--depends on it.

Email me to jump on board. If we gather enough interest, I’ll take it to Washington and a few of the large technical training institutions to see if we can get the ball rolling.

Last updated: Jan 31, 2014

TONY DIBENEDETTO | Columnist | Chairman and CEO, Tribridge

Tony DiBenedetto is chairman and CEO of Tribridge, a national technology services firm specializing in business applications and cloud solutions. The recipient of numerous leadership awards, including the Ernst & Young Florida Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Technology, DiBenedetto has dedicated his entire career to the areas of business innovation, customer advocacy, and servant leadership.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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