New workforce thrust aims to boost Indy tech expertise

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Businesses and other employers can anticipate more technologically literate college graduates—and see their existing employees raise their tech game—if a new thrust focused on central Indiana's workforce pans out.

EmployIndy is starting a push to steer more students into tech-related fields, help colleges and universities impart skills needed by local tech employers, and multiply coding academies and other alternate ways to learn tech skills.

Dubbed Hire Up, the initiative will be funded with $2 million from various sources, including grants. It will have two directors, a manager and three other full- or part-time staff.

“It is important that we get it right for the future,” EmployIndy CEO Brooke Huntington said. “We have a great challenge.”

Hire Up was unveiled at a symposium Wednesday morning sponsored by EmployIndy and IBJ. The “Mind the Gap” event included a panel discussion on future challenges to develop, hire and retain tech-savvy workers.

EmployIndy, formerly the Indianapolis Private Industry Council, is the local federal workforce development board.

Hire Up traces to a 2012 report by Central Indiana Corporate Partnership showing information technology jobs growing faster than the local economy as a whole. A follow-on study by EmployIndy and local tech trade group TechPoint uncovered both good news and challenges.

Colleges and universities are churning out more tech graduates, but employers want even more, according to the report, which surveyed 71 local companies. Employers also complained that graduates had obsolete skills and too little real-world experience.

Specific findings included:

— Some 51,000 tech jobs will be created locally by 2025 in such growing and well-paying sectors as advanced manufacturing, logistics, IT, health care, life sciences and renewable fuels. However, only half will be filled if local workers' tech skills continue to grow at their current rate.

— Tech jobs are growing twice as fast as the overall local labor market—17 percent between 2010 and 2014. Job postings for computer and IT jobs shot up 54 percent last year to 10,628.

— Computer and IT jobs pay an average of $75,000—nearly double the area average.

— Software developers, computer and information analysts, and computer networking and systems positions are in greatest demand.

— Indiana colleges and universities have nearly doubled the number of IT graduates and certifications in the past four years.

— Local job postings for software developers—2,500 in 2013—were six times higher than the number of students who graduated with that expertise that year.

— Three-quarters of the surveyed companies perceived a moderate skills gap in computer and IT talent.

— More than half the computer-related job postings required more than five years of experience.

A Brookings Institution study early this year found that the state has strong advantages in industries where companies might not be considered IT firms but which rely heavily on tech.

Indiana ranks third in the percentage of its workers involved in “advanced industries”—those spending at least $450 per worker a year on research and development and employing at least 20 percent of their workforce in STEM-intensive occupations.

Such jobs accounted for more than 11 percent of all jobs in Indiana, Brookings said.

Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said the Indianapolis area has a challenge in persuading technologically savvy workers not to migrate to the coasts.

However, Muro said the Indianapolis area has deep strengths in industry-led organizations with the muscle to increase tech knowledge. In addition to TechPoint, he mentioned BioCrossroads and its attempt to start a biosciences research institute that would lure top researchers.

“Indiana and Indianapolis have to execute that much more sharply,” he said, but added, “Indianapolis is extremely well-organized.”

More information about Hire Up is available here.


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