Jul 23 2018

Companies Call on Community Colleges to Address Shortages in Tech Talent

Partnerships open doors to new opportunities for students and companies alike.

Increasingly, some of the biggest tech giants are turning to two-year community colleges in order to find the skilled IT workers they desperately need, as well as to help relieve some of the student debt that a quarter of Americans are burdened with these days.

While tech jobs are a major source of employment in the U.S., there still aren’t enough professionals to go around, and companies across the board are experiencing a shortage of tech talent. In fact, a recent report by LinkedIn found that in 2018, the most in-demand hard skills will be cloud and distributed computing, followed by several other IT skills, like analytics.

This lack of professionals gets even worse in fields like cybersecurity, which could see a global shortage of 2 million professionals by 2019, according to a report by information security advocacy group ISACA.

Lack of talent doesn’t just hold companies back, it also slows innovation for industries as a whole.

“While economic downturns result in slow or negative job growth because of lagging demand, we are seeing anemic job growth in IT because of lack of supply,” Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe Alliance, tells WTOP. “Despite robust demand in many IT skill sets, we simply do not have enough qualified IT professionals.”

Individual businesses also feel stunted by the competition for IT talent. According to a study by Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Research Institute, 77 percent of companies believe that insufficient digital skills in the workforce is a key obstacle to digital transformation.

To help address this shortage, while simultaneously quelling the rising tide of student loan debt that saddles many students out of college, both large and small companies are setting up talent pipelines from community colleges.

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Partnerships Turn Colleges into IT Talent Incubators

“Community colleges are just absolutely key” in companies’ searches for new tech talent, Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a recent report on the future of work, tells The Wall Street Journal.

He adds that companies like Google, Amazon and IBM have all begun to establish partnership programs with community colleges around the country. Google, for instance, recently partnered with “25 community colleges in seven states, as well as more than a dozen companies including Walmart, Hulu, Sprint, GE and Bank of America” in order to launch its IT Support Professional Certificate. The program aims to help students qualify for an IT position in eight months.

Meanwhile, Amazon has partnered with Northern Virginia Community College in order to offer a cloud computing degree.

Additionally, IBM has launched its Community College Skills Accelerator program, which partners with community colleges near IBM facilities, such as the Moberly Area Community College in Missouri, Northeast Iowa Community College in Dubuque, Iowa, and Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, N.C., among others, to develop skills around cloud, mobile application development, security intelligence analysis and more.

A main goal of the program is to tap into a talent pool that doesn’t have traditional degrees, says Sam Ladah, IBM’s vice president of talent, in a press release announcing an expansion of the program. The company has had great success in recruiting for what it calls "new collar” careers, or well-paying roles that value specific tech skills over college credentials.

“Last year alone, these new collar professionals accounted for around 15 percent of our U.S. hiring," he says. “We're delighted to be providing more community college students with access to emerging technologies at the forefront of our industry, as well as hands-on exposure to new collar career paths. Our goal is to make the IT industry more inclusive by helping a more diverse set of candidates understand that if they have the right skills, there’s an opportunity for them at today’s IBM.”

In turn, the program offers students a path to compete in a workforce that increasingly calls for technical skills.

“The nation's community colleges are a pathway to well-paying jobs for many Americans," says Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, in the press release. "By aligning local economic development needs and the needs of students, community colleges bridge the gap between employers and skilled workers. We will continue to leverage partnerships with the business sector to help to ensure that American workers and businesses remain competitive in the 21st century global labor market."

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