Making connections

Five years on, the area’s IT community grows

Posted on Jan 30, 2020 :: Feature
Posted by Kim Iversen, Director, NEW IT Alliance

In the past five years, Northeast Wisconsin has been buzzing with energy and activity throughout the IT community. A new spirit of collaboration and engagement has been permeating the community and has led to the creation of new organizations and extensive collaboration between industry, education and nonprofit organizations.

In January 2015, Michelle Schuler had yet to convince Kathy Frederickson to help her launch Women in Technology. Amplify Oshkosh had not yet started gathering the Oshkosh IT community for drinks and Ideas Amplified while listening to DJ Glenn. The NEW IT Alliance had not yet invited several hundred high school students to Lambeau Field to learn about IT careers from professionals, employers and higher education institutions. Data wasn’t being gathered to let us know how deep the demand for IT talent truly was in the region. Microsoft had yet to choose Northeast Wisconsin for its TechSpark initiative. The Packers had yet to launch TitletownTech. No one here knew that TEALS was more than a color for trendy 1970s bathrooms, and Insight on Technology had yet to be conceived and become an award-winning publication.

Regular readers of this magazine will likely take all these organizations and their initiatives for granted. But only five years ago, none of them existed. How far we’ve come in such a short period. All these efforts have created a region where collaboration is the norm and where key players know one another and leverage the strengths of each organization.

With all these activities going on, we have started to look for more insights and understanding of the impact they’re having on the IT talent pipeline. The NEW IT Alliance and Microsoft teamed up in 2018 to collect data on computer science offerings in the school districts in Brown and Outagamie counties (the TechSpark region). In 2019, this effort expanded to the entire New North region. It appears that the efforts to increase the number of students with strong IT skills are working. The data shows a sharp increase in the percentage of schools offering computer science courses (from 76 percent to 97 percent) and students enrolled in computer science courses (from 5 percent to 11 percent). The TEALS program has become popular among high schools, with 18 schools now participating. We have also learned that 32 percent of those students are female, 56 percent male and 12 percent unreported.

At the college level, enrollments in IT programs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, Lakeland University, Fox Valley Technical College, Lakeshore Technical College and Moraine Park Technical College have risen by 46 percent between 2015-16 and 2018-19, with almost 2,500 students now enrolled. The gender breakdown for the latest year showed 18 percent of enrollees were female.

K-12 school districts have reported that lack of qualified instructors and lack of funding were the two primary challenges they face in expanding their computer science offerings. At the higher education level, the primary challenge is lack of student interest and generally lower college enrollments driven by the strong economy and declining numbers of high school graduates, leading to strong competition for students. Data collection among K-12 and higher education is an ongoing effort, with annual surveys sent each spring.

New for 2020, we are developing a survey that will go to regional employers to help us better understand the regional IT employment needs. The Alliance has already had a couple of organizations contact us looking for this type of data. We hope to have this data collected and ready to share at our annual TechTalent Summit in June. We will also be sharing the annual data from K-12 and higher ed.

By collecting and disseminating this data, we will learn where the gaps are in the region and how the various efforts are moving the needle in improving the regional IT talent pipeline. As our data collection becomes more robust and detailed, we will get an increasingly better understanding of our region and how supply and demand of IT talent is matching up.

If we can keep the energy in the region up, imagine what the next five years will bring.