Thursday, December 14, 2017
Business

To sharpen skills and deepen bench of technology workforce, a regional call to arms

Giving up-and-coming Tampa Bay technology workers more real-world experience and making sure their skills jell with the needs of local companies are some of the key recommendations in a much-anticipated report unveiled today.

This is not just another GeekFest report. It's a regionwide effort to keep Tampa Bay's technology workers competitive and abundant. And it lays the IT foundation critical to expanding the metropolitan area economy as demand for technology expertise continues to expand in the business world.

A core issue: How can Tampa Bay meet the need of companies looking for IT workers with the right tech skills and that magic "three to five years of experience" while freshly minted tech grads and dislocated workers retrained in tech struggle to find work?

Now comes the hard part. The enthusiastic backers of this report, a $65,000-plus project, must transform recommendations into results.

Recommendations include:

• Rapidly expand apprenticeships and internships so that workers in tech education programs also get plenty of real workplace time.

• Create education tracks as early as middle school to expose students to software programming — a key IT need — and related skills while they gain tech certification and work part time for businesses.

• Create on-campus student chapters of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, the tech advocacy and networking group that is taking charge of implementing this report's recommendations. TBTF CEO Heather Kenyon says initial chapters at USF St. Petersburg and St. Petersburg College are in the works.

The recommendations require a sharp uptick in cooperation and partnerships between schools training people in technology and companies that insist they can't find enough people with the right tech skills. Business leaders also fret that without prompt action, the Tampa Bay economy may be constrained by a growing lack of competent technology workers.

The report is the brainchild of Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., who insisted the report look at metrowide workforce needs. Homans, who worked with Pinellas County economic development director Mike Meidel as an equal partner, said the report sends a "message to the business and political leadership that reinforces the spirit of regionalism."

The study came together in just five months by IT consultant Pat Gehant, hired by Homans and funded by private companies and public groups. Now Gehant will work for TBTF to help guide the report's implementation.

Meidel called the report groundbreaking for its regional approach. One benefit, he said, is that St. Petersburg College might create tech training programs that complement — not duplicate, as past habits would dictate — tech programs that Hills­borough Community College may offer.

What are the odds this report avoids landing on the Shelf of Forgotten Studies?

"I have confidence," added Ed Peachey, one of the study's backers as CEO of both WorkNet Pinellas and the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, "we will not let this one collect dust."

The report is online at www.TampaBayITWorkforceSurvey.org.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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