The New North celebrated some key victories this week – and rightfully so after the battering the region has taken since the Great Recession.
In general terms, the outlook is positive as the region’s manufacturing core, which is responsible for more than 25 percent of the region’s GDP, and seems to be stronger than ever going forward.
We’ve had some great wins recognized nationally, as Kathi Seifert pointed out while revving up the crowd at the New North Summit on Tuesday morning: Fond du Lac has been recognized as one of the top 10 area for manufacturing growth, Appleton has been cited as one of the best places to live in the United States and Green Bay is touted as one of the best places for the creative class.
Those are great wins for our region.
Yet, there is a grey lining besmirching our golden cloud: a growing shortage of talent in the information technology sector.
How acute is the problem? A panel exploring the issue did an informal survey of 6 companies and found 240 openings.
“Young people just don’t see the diversity of careers in this sector,” says Jeff Lang, solutions group managing director for Omni Resources.
Information technology will be an area of emphasis for 2015, with both long term and short term strategies expected as the year unfolds. While the details are coming, there are four key things all of us in the New North can do to help:
- Deliver a better message to young people. Much like manufacturing did previously, we all need to do a better job of communicating the career opportunities available, particularly to young people. “It’s not about the guy kept in the corner writing code and fed pizza and Mountain Dew,” Lang says.
- Create a compelling work culture. Tech talent lives in a connected world, so make sure that is how you communicate to them. Highlight things such as the “sexy” technologies they can work with training and perks such as flexible hours, free food and a competitive salary (notice that competitive salary is third).
- Encourage diversity in the IT pool. Up and coming IT talent is used to working and living in a diverse environment, which happens to also be good for the bottom line. Research by the Anita Borg Institute shows that Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors saw the return on invested capital jump more 66 percent while return on sales went up 42 percent and return on equity increased by 53 percent. Gallup research found that companies with more diverse staffs have a 22 percent lower turnover rate.
- Foster a create economy that will attract young talent. As we reported in the December issue of insight on Business, the New North is competing with other cities to attract and retain the emerging creative class – which includes IT pros. As Cheryl Perkins of Innovation Edge explained, talent is looking for lifestyle and location first, and a company to work for second. We need to make sure we are creating communities that allow us to attract and retain that creative class. “Is this the place they want to live?” asks Thomas Kunkel, president of St. Norbert College. “I think we have some work to do.”
There will be a lot of specific recommendations rolling out in the next several months for growing the ranks of IT professionals in the region. The steps outlined above can make the eventual strategy even more effective and prevent today’s shortfall from being tomorrow’s crisis.
— Sean P. Johnson is the Senior Associate Editor at Insight Publications, LLC.