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Are too many tech firms seeking 'Goldilocks' employees, rather than developing pipelines?

March 15, 2019

The Indianapolis tech industry is experiencing a talent shortage in part because so many companies are looking for the "Goldilocks" employee—not too green, not too expensive—rather than developing their own pipelines, TechPoint CEO Mike Langellier told an industry crowd Friday.

“There’s a lot of competition” for that software engineer or other tech worker with a few years of experience, Langellier said during a panel discussion at IBJ’s Technology Power Breakfast at the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown. “The challenge is to build capacity internally in companies.”

The talent shortage is not just a central Indiana phenomenon. Across the country, tech companies and tech-enabled firms are desperately recruiting workers, while local governments and schools try to find ways to increase their talent pipelines.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a surplus of 1.4 million software development jobs in the U.S. by next year. And the problem can be exacerbated in Indiana and other Midwestern cities, so-called flyover country.

“It’s a brand issue,” Langellier said.

Susana Rivera-Mills, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Ball State University, knows something about that. The university heavily recruited her away from Oregon State University, where she was vice provost for academic programs and learning innovation.

Ball State and Muncie had not been on her radar. But central Indiana “is a hidden gem,” she said. And sharing that message is key to efforts to recruit more people to Indiana.

“We need to show potential workers that they can have the same quality of life” that they can have on the coasts or in Denver or other cities, she said.

That’s important to do even among home-grown tech talent—young people who earn science, technology, engineering and math degrees from Purdue University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Indiana University and other top schools, only to head to the coasts to work.

“It’s not like California generates top engineering students on their own,” said Aaron Gillum, a senior vice president at 50 South Capital, the firm the state hired to implement the $250 million Next Level Trust Fund. “They’re pulling students from the Midwest to go out to California to work at Facebook, Google, Amazon.

“The talent is not homegrown in Silicon Valley,” he said. “It’s the cool place to be. Everyone wants to go out there after college.”

That adds to a tech density that feeds on itself, attracting more startups, more founders, more investment—and, as a result, more talent.

“Everything there is within a 25-mile-square area,” Gilum said. “It’s hard to replicate that anyplace else.”

Christine McDonnell, co-founder and CEO of startup Codelicious, which provides easy-to-teach coding curriculum to schools, said the Indiana Legislature has taken some steps to help, including a law approved last year that requires K-12 schools to incorporate computer science into their class offerings.

“What the legislation was able to do was open these doors and create these opportunities for professional development for educators … and also create a funding pool to help accelerate it into the classroom,” she said.

 

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