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3 ideas to overcome the skills shortage in Tampa Bay’s tech sector

Margie Manning



Seventy percent of the IT employers in Tampa Bay say there’s a moderate-to-extreme skills shortage in the area.

It will take changes in culture, hiring practices and education to close the talent gap, said David Brown, CEO of Hays US.

Brown unveiled the findings of a Hays survey conducted for Tampa Bay Tech at poweredUP, the organization’s technology festival.

“As Tampa Bay’s tech community continues to grow, so too does the challenge of finding and retaining top tech talent,” said Jill St. Thomas, executive director of Tampa Bay Tech, Florida’s largest technology council. That’s why Tampa Bay Tech tapped Hays’ expertise.

David Brown

There’s overall confidence in economic growth, Brown said, citing statistics from Hays’ national salary guide as well as the local survey. Fifty-five percent of 3,000 IT leaders nationwide said the economy is flourishing, and 58 percent of the Florida respondents said the economy will grow. Forty-one percent of people who answered the survey nationwide said they plan to hire more this year than last year; in Florida, that number was 34 percent.

On the first-ever assessment of Tampa Bay’s “net promoter score” — a measure of client and customer loyalty — the area got a 34.8. There were 300 local respondents and the average score was an 8 out of a possible 10, Brown said.

“That’s incredibly strong especially for the first time you’ve done something like this,” he said. “This says you guys like working in technology in Tampa Bay, and this is a good place to work.”

Key words that came up in the survey responses were booming, growing, vibrant, diverse and beaches. “I guess that’s as good a reason as any,” Brown said. “Sell what you have.”

Key skills that companies are hiring for are cloud services, business intelligence and data sciences.

But there aren’t enough workers to fill the jobs, Brown said, and he cited four main reasons for the skills shortage:

  • Few company-supported training programs. Only 27 percent of respondents offer formal training, while 97 percent of IT employees say they self-educate.
  • The ever-changing landscape. “This is the one we can do the least about … 25 percent of jobs are threatened by automation.”
  • Rigid hiring standards, with employers emphasizing experience over potential.
  • The education system and a failure to invest in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] literacy.

Here are Brown’s suggestions to close the gap.

Create a learning culture. “If we can create company environments where continuous learning, continuous improvement is not just something that’s talked about or sounds good as a slogan or on a billboard, but it’s something that’s lived and breathed every day, it’s part of the culture and in the DNA, then we can really affect change,” he said. That leads to stronger loyalty, better performance and more business success.

He cited a practice by Masonite (NYSE: DOOR), a Tampa-based door manufacturer and a Hays client. Masonite bring people from different parts of the business together, learning coding and reviewing code. The company is giving employees new pathways to learning, which creates loyalty, Brown said.

Relax hiring requirements. “Seventy-seven percent of employers say that soft skills are just as important as hard skills, but we don’t hire to this. What we hire for are the hard skills,” Brown said. “What you create are small pockets of highly skilled people .. and meanwhile a lot of jobs go unfilled. There are people who are willing and able to do them if we would just relax our hiring standards and say I’m going to hire for the right person, not the right skill set, and I’m going to have a culture of learning and development, and I’m going to groom people to be the programmer, the security expert, the data scientist that I want them to be.”

Another Hays client, accounting and consulting firm PwC, hires for aptitude and ability and not for skill sets, he said.

STEM literacy. Brown challenged the sold-out crowd at the Mahaffey Theater to invest time and energy to this issue. “In your company support coding camps and STEM workshops, ask your company to sponsor schools, learning facilities, places that retool folks in the marketplace. Maybe on an individual level, speak at a school and talk to people about the importance of science and technology, math, and how it’s the future. And just evangelize. We all can be evangelists for the technology space.”

Brown recalled a conversation with his own 9-year-old daughter, who told him STEM and robotics camp was just for nerds. He chastised himself for not evangelizing his own message at home.

“It made me think. There’s something we can all do personally, if we can evangelize and impact a person or two, and say, ‘That’s wrong. We’re actually in the coolest space there is,’” he said. “Every business is impacted by technology. We build technology that helps people live longer, that cures diseases, that impacts everything we do. What is cooler than working in technology? In my book, there’s nothing cooler than what we do, and we need to make sure we spread the word.”

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  1. Avatar

    neil cosentino

    May 28, 2019at10:13 am

    ASAP start free for locals and OLLIS – computer based online tech learning programs

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