NWA programs ramp up to address technology talent gap
Technology jobs are in demand in northwest Arkansas, and employers and organizations in the area have programs and money available to support the continued development of the technology workforce.
Still, there are barriers to meeting the demand for technological talent.
GB Cazes, general manager of the Conway-based consultancy The Emory groupworks with a non-profit organization based in Springdale Northwest Arkansas Council to address the problem of technological workforce development.
The technological talent gap has been a national problem since he started working in the industry 20 years ago. He added that the demand for technological talent continues to increase along with the need for technology. And the talent gap is widening.
“Everything we do, live, work, play and learn, is tied to technology these days,” he said. “Even if you’re not a tech company, you need technology to operate and operate. The demand for talent is growing.”
Leaders in the area for technology talent demand include large companies, such as Walmart Inc. and JB Hunt Transport Services, those that supply and support them, and startups.
Cazes is working with the board to create technology talent development programs and strategies in northwest Arkansas. Entrepreneurs are being contacted to identify their needs and create programs that fit them.
“One of the most successful programs we’ve had is the technology learning program,” he said. “This is a statewide program. We’ve been working with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences. They were formed from a government Blue Ribbon Commission. [Asa] Hutchinson’s.
The center receives state and federal grants to pay for the apprenticeship program and provide training to employees of companies with technology talent needs. Northwest Arkansas apprentices are expected to triple this year to about 300, from 99 in 2021. That is also an increase from 36 in 2020, he said.
“Now that word is being said, there are a lot of repeat buyers,” Cazes said. “We continue to see this growth, and now we’re dealing with the big three, specifically Walmart and JB Hunt. That’s what makes these numbers grow exponentially because of the scale of these organizations.”
Another program, NWA Tech Academy, offers in-house software development entrepreneurs. “We offer subject matter experts to guide these fellows and work with the employer to ensure they deliver the quality, standards and best practices they need for the projects they are working on,” Cazes said. “It’s a turnkey solution for entrepreneurs.”
Cazes is also working with the City of Fayetteville to create a five-year strategic plan to develop technological talent and make the region a training center. He said the vision is to become a national model of technological workforce training to close the talent gap. The plan is under review by the City Council.
This year, Cazes wants to work with other cities in northwest Arkansas on similar plans and identify the technology talent needs of their respective cities without duplicating their efforts.
“Our area only shows modest growth for the development of the technological workforce,” he said. “It will be crucial to move forward as this area continues to grow and thrive. We can train the next generation of technology professionals in ways that go beyond traditional school or university and include some creative avenues for the development of the strength of work “.
According to a Brookings analysis of Emsi Burning Glass data, technology employment in northwest Arkansas rose 4.6% to 3,229 jobs in 2020, from 3,086 jobs in 2019. This represents an increase of 18.8% of the 2,718 jobs in 2015.
Adams said workforce development is a recurring theme in his discussions with companies about the benefits of the technology summit area. He noted that grant-making organizations and technology companies of all sizes support the conference.
“Across the spectrum, they all seem to be concerned because we need to find ways to ensure that the development of the technology workforce is accessible to those who may traditionally be underrepresented in technology or may come from they have a lower socio-economic status and do not have the means to pursue a traditional education in the countryside, ”he said.
Cazes said technology jobs offer significantly higher wages than state and national averages. He said the COVID-19 pandemic led coastal technology employers to hire more remote workers, even in the central United States. Employers are saving money while offering well-paid jobs for remote workers. He said this is an opportunity for Northwest Arkansas to retain its workforce while working remotely for employers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $ 93,180 is the average salary for software developers in northwest Arkansas. The average salary is $ 167,420 in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California metropolitan area.
“It’s a big economic engine for today and in the long run,” Cazes said. “The last time I checked, about 2,500 tech jobs were open today in northwest Arkansas. If you filled them all today, there would be 2,500 tomorrow because you can never meet the need for demand.”
He noted that a challenge to develop the technological workforce in the area is high-speed Internet access, especially for remote workers and those who grew up playing. He expects tech jobs to be filled with a mix of workers in the region and outside the area. In the short term, he expects top-level technological talent to be recruited in the area as training programs grow.
Joe Rollins, Northwest Arkansas Council’s workforce development director, works closely with Cazes on the development of the technology workforce. Rollins hopes that the continued development of technology workers will continue to be a top priority for the development of the workforce in the region.
Key needs include software developers, user support specialists, systems engineers and architects, information technology project managers, network and systems administrators, data analysts and data scientists.
“The IT list of our needs continues to grow and grow, and that’s a big challenge because we do it because it shows the growth of our business and the strength of the Northwest Arkansas economy in the future.” , Rollins said.
New entry-level positions are available as technology workers in the area improve their skills and move on to advanced functions. Along with the work of the board, Rollins noted that employers in the area offer programs to enable workers to improve their skills. Entrepreneurs have developed personalized training programs with the help of the Data Science Center, the Global Campus of the University of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Community College, and the Northwest Technical Institute.
Rollins said one of the barriers to the development of the technological workforce is the perception of work rather than discussing what the position entails with the employer. Another is to raise awareness that money is available to help support the technological training of workers.
Teresa Hudson, director of Turn on professional studies, said the Bentonville Schools program began seven years ago with 15 technology students. Since then, several workforce development programs focused on the needs of area employers have been added and partnered with companies such as Walmart and Tata Consultancy Services. His tech students have received internships that have led to job offers as junior developers for the Bentonville retailer.
“Our students are saying,‘ My God, I can … start earning that good salary while I go to school and I’m with some of the brightest minds in computer science, ’” Hudson said.
Carter Malloy, Fayetteville-based CEO of AcreTrader Cropland Brokerage, said the company has grown from about 20 employees last year to 100 this year. He said he expects to have more than 200 employees next year, which includes mostly tech workers.
Malloy attributed the company’s technology recruitment success to “brute force,” as it employs two full-time recruiters and has several third-party recruiters. He said the company has allowed employees to work remotely to bridge the technology talent gap. He has also relocated employees to the Chicago, Denver, New York, Seattle and Austin, Texas area. He noted that the region and the state do not have enough developers.
“We’re recruiting from outside the force area and relocating some people here in northwest Arkansas,” he said.
Payton Lenz, head of digital experience and technology at next bikeable Ledger office building in Bentonville, was hired in Northwest Arkansas from Atlanta through the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Life Works Here initiative, which offers $ 10,000 and a bicycle to tech workers who move here. After leading Internet of Things (IoT) projects for Walmart US, he joined Ledger in April.
“We’re building this tech building to help attract the community,” Lenz said. “We hope this kind of experience will help attract other technology startups from across the country or the world. We’re trying to make this experience unique that no one has ever seen.”
He said Ledger, a six-story building for bicycles, will open in October.
Lenz, an IoT consultant, noted that one of the barriers to recruiting technology talent is a competitive salary compared to other areas, such as Dallas.
“You can’t be angry with someone for rejecting a $ 300,000 offer to go to Citibank,” he said. “We have to compete with that in this area.”
Since September, DroneUp, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been involved in the development of the technology workforce in northwest Arkansas, said Kris Cravey, director of people. The company employs drone pilots, software developers and other technical functions. It has hired employees in the area, and some have moved here. As DroneUp escalates, look at how to develop the future talent portfolio, he said.
The company has contacted universities and high schools in the area to discuss how it can support drone programs that provide students with certificates and degrees. She is also looking to offer her DroneUp flight academy to allow those who complete it the opportunity to work.
Over the next three to five years, he expects the company to have several hundred employees in the area.
DroneUp is one of three drone technology companies to partner with Walmart. In november Walmart has announced the expansion of its DroneUp partnership to offer the delivery of drone goods from Farmington, Rogers and Bentonville stores.