How the US is Filling 500,000 Tech Jobs – And It's Not What You Think
Get ready for a mind-blowing statistic: There are over half a million unfilled information technology (IT) jobs in the United States right now. And what's more, many of them tend to pay higher than the average middle-class job, but most require skills that can be learned without a traditional four-year degree.
Nontraditional tech education is becoming more and more relevant to the IT workforce of tomorrow.
From the biggest tech companies to the biggest government officials, more people are starting to think outside the box of traditional four-year college education. A bachelor's degree is not the only pathway for aspiring tech professionals anymore. The IT sector requires hard skills and experience, and it thrives on creative problem solvers who are passionate and can collaborate well with others. And it's not just a cultural trend sparked by a few success stories of IT start-ups that incubated in basements and garages. Nontraditional tech education is becoming more and more relevant to the IT workforce of tomorrow.
The TechHire Initiative
Alternative tech ed is already making its debut as a government-sponsored campaign. The White House recently announced TechHire Initiative is a plan to fill 500,000 tech jobs by working with communities to get new candidates trained and hired quickly, via community college, internships and online courses. It even includes "coding boot camps" and high-quality online courses that can rapidly train workers, often in just a few months.
"The fact that Obama acknowledges that this is not just a fad, that coding schools are here to stay, brings attention to what we're doing," says Hilary Wells, senior director of marketing for Dev Bootcamp, which has campuses in Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, and is one of TechHire's partner institutions.
Beyond strategic educational partnerships, a key component of TechHire is that employers in the participating communities will be encouraged to rethink their hiring criteria to include candidates from both nontraditional and traditional technology education programs.
As pointed out by Wired Magazine, some areas like Silicon Valley in California are more open to the idea of non-traditional ed. "In the rest of corporate America, not so much," says the article, "and yet, non-tech industries like financial services and healthcare, are where two-thirds of the country's tech jobs exist."
Take a look at some of the top cities participating in TechHire, and how they intend to influence tech education and recruiting practices across the country:
New York City - Among top employers who are on board with this initiative in New York include Microsoft, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Facebook. Via the New York-based Tech Talent Pipeline, college students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system will be connected to paid internship opportunities at local tech companies, while the NYC Web Development Fellowship will assist 18-26 year olds without a college degree with skills development.
Philadelphia - Philadelphia is one of the original five areas chosen for the pilot program of TechHire. Among the biggest contributor is Creating IT Futures (from CompTIA and its philanthropic arm, the Creating IT Futures Foundation), which is introducing the IT-Ready Program to the city. The program offers intensive information technology education for free to students of all skills level, and pairs them with mentors in the field.
Los Angeles - The Los Angeles High Impact Information Technology, Entertainment-Entrepreneurship, and Communication Hubs (LA HI-TECH) regional consortium, aims to train students via its network of high schools and community colleges. Amazon Web Services is on board, too, to develop a cloud-computing curriculum for students in the program.
San Francisco - Hack Reactor is San Francisco's TechHire arm, which will offer in-person and online programming for aspiring software engineers. Their first brick-and-mortar tech ed campus is set to open in the summer of 2015 in Oakland.
Portland - Code Oregon has a simple goal - to prepare 10,000 residents how to find careers in coding. Portland has 2,400 tech jobs to fill just in its metro area. Key partners for this endeavor include Capital One, LinkedIn, Cisco, Microsoft, and others.
More Educational Options, More Career Choices
Nontraditional technology education is by no means going to replace the four-year degree, says Wells. But it's definitely a good alternative. "It provides choice[s] that didn't exist before. There have been some other choices for people to develop a useful skill while not going to college, but this is contemporary. We spend time teaching people how to communicate, how to take feedback, how to be leaders, how to be empathetic, how to listen," she says.
The U.S. higher education system is growing more ineffective every year, at least for IT students.
Programs like Dev Bootcamp are also committed to helping match students with job opportunities once they graduate. "Career services people educate students how to get prepared for the job search. A lot of people do not come from tech backgrounds, so we help them with how to tell the story about why they are now best positioned to get a junior engineering job, and how to get through a technical interview," says Wells.
It helps if the organization is already on board with bringing on new hires with relevant tech skills, though not necessarily a computer science degree. One such company is the Austin-based Q2, a leading provider of enterprise solutions for secure virtual banking. "Our temp-to-hire program, Project R, which provides participants extensive on-the-job education through innovative and exciting projects, is designed to help participants start a career track in software development -- whether they're recent college graduates looking to start a career in IT, experienced professionals who want to change careers, or anything in between," says Adam Anderson, executive vice president and chief technology officer.
His contention is that the U.S. higher education system is growing more ineffective every year, at least for IT students. "The focus on a four-year undergraduate education as the only gateway into a tech job is excluding a tremendous amount of raw talent. The other gap, in my view, is that the majority of middle and high school students do not have a sense of what roles are available or what the jobs associated with those roles entail," says Anderson. That's why his company has taken a proactive approach to source talent in new ways.
Find Tech Education in Your Area
It is the overall goal of TechHire to get other companies to follow suit and open their doors to nontraditionally educated students.
Of course, you don't have to live in one of the TechHire communities in order to benefit from this shift in thinking. Remember, there are many high-quality tech ed providers -- both on-site and online -- that offer immersive and intensive tech ed and/or boot camps outside of the scope of TechHire, so research your options. In just a few weeks or months, with the right mindset and commitment, you could enter the exciting field of limitless opportunities that is technology with fewer barriers than ever before.
- Albuquerque, N.M.
- Chattanooga, Tenn.
- City of Kearney and Buffalo County, Neb.
- Detroit, Mich.
- Eastern Kentucky
- Kansas City, Mo.
- Los Angeles, Calif.
- Louisville, Ky.
- Memphis, Tenn.
- Minneapolis, Minn.
- Nashville, Tenn.
- New York, N.Y.
- Philadelphia, Pa.
- Portland, Ore.
- Rochester, N.Y.
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- San Antonio, Texas
- San Francisco, Calif.
- St. Louis, Mo.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover, February 2015, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/jolts.pdf
- The White House, TechHire Initiative, https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/technology/techhire
- The White House, Fact Sheet: President Obama Launches New TechHire Initiative, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/09/fact-sheet-president-obama-launches-new-techhire-initiative
- Wired, Obama has a $100M plan to Fill the Tech Talent Shortage, http://www.wired.com/2015/03/techhire-initiative/
- Creating IT Futures Foundation, About IT-Ready, http://www.creatingitfutures.org/it-ready-students/about-it-ready
- LA HI-TECH, http://www.lahitech.org/
- Built in Los Angeles, Los Angeles to participate in nationwide TechHire initiative, http://www.builtinla.com/2015/03/10/los-angeles-participate-nationwide-techhire-initiative-mayor-garcetti-says
- Hack Reactor, http://www.hackreactor.com/
- Go Local PDX, Portland's Tech Industry Could Grow Under Obama Program, http://m.golocalpdx.com/news/portlands-tech-industry-could-grow-under-obama-program
- Hilary Wells, Senior Director of Marketing, Dev Bootcamp, interviewed by author 3/24
- Adam Anderson, executive vice president and chief technology officer, Q2, interviewed via email by author 3/23