In November 2016, Kim Iversen left her global IT position with Kimberly-Clark to lead the newly formed NEW IT Alliance, charged with increasing the availability of IT talent in Northeast Wisconsin. She recently sat down with Insight Senior Associate Editor Sean Johnson to talk about the challenges and opportunities for increasing the talent in the pipeline.
BY 2020, WE’LL HAVE APPROXIMATELY 4,000 jobs here in Northeast Wisconsin that we won’t be able to fill with our current talent pipeline throughput. The open positions we have in IT in 2016 cost the region $91 million in payroll. By 2021, it will be costing us $203 million in lost earnings. Those aren’t small numbers.
For the Alliance, there are short-term and long-term missions to increase the talent available. Short-term, the Alliance is like a brand-new startup, so I’m working toward getting logos developed, finding funding, getting a website created, building out my executive steering committee and providing structure for how that will be moving forward. Long-term, which is really the part that everyone else is interested in, is really going to be pulling together programs connecting people and organizations to one another, working with businesses within the region to really engage and educate our population on all the wonderful opportunities there are within IT, with the end goal of increasing our IT pipeline here in Northeast Wisconsin.
A critical challenge will be changing the way IT is perceived, particularly at early ages. IT suffers some of the same bad rap as all the other STEM areas. Look at science, engineering and math — those are areas that our nation needs to build a knowledge base in, and yet we’ve been historically very bad at that. Combine that with the technology sector, the mass outsourcing we’ve seen over the last 15-plus years, and you just magnify the issue. And those stats are even worse for girls. In the 6- to 12-year-old range, about 66 percent of our girls are interested in IT or technology-type roles. When they get to the 13- to 17-year range, we’re down to 32 percent. For college freshman, it’s even worse. We’re down to a whopping 4 percent of them looking to pursue IT careers. That’s a nosedive.
I happened to walk in on a group of middle school students who were waiting to use the Fab Lab at Fox Valley Technical College and got to talking to them. I asked them, when they think about technology and IT careers, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? (They described) the socially challenged guy working in a dark basement eating pizza and drinking Mountain Dew, and that is still out there. When I informed the group of kids, and it was males and females alike, that I was actually in IT, the looks of disbelief on their faces …
It’s more than the kids, though. Parents and teachers often have a perception of IT as one thing — coding. As of today, there are 11 different, unique IT careers. One of the challenges I have before me is to educate our adults, particularly that group we’re referring to as the influencers — administrators, parents, teachers — educate them on IT careers. And, oh, by the way, these are well-paid jobs. You’re looking at average start salaries in the $30,000 to $40,000 a year range, and when you start looking at our software engineers and security folks, you’re looking at $80,000 to $90,000 and above for average salaries.
It’s going to be a lot of work and campaigns, educating folks, whether it’s boots on the ground, me in front of teachers at a professional development day or me with parents at a parent-teacher association-type meeting.
Another opportunity is adults looking for new careers. Some of these individuals may have two- or four-year degrees already, so it’s a matter of are you interested? Do you have the skill set or the aptitude? Now let’s get you into an educational path.