Accenture is working to close a skills gap between the area’s workforce and the jobs that are open or soon will be open to them.
The professional services firm is taking on the project as an increasing number of the jobs currently available in the Tampa-St. Pete area become susceptible to high levels of automation, especially jobs currently held by workers who don’t have bachelor’s degrees.
At the same time, there are jobs right now or will be in the near future that require technology skills that the current workforce lacks. To meet the demands of existing employers as well as companies considering a move to Tampa-St. Pete, the area will either need to import labor from outside the region or grow and develop local talent.
“Our mission when it comes to community relations is around skills and workers, not just those who work for us. It’s about, how do we empower people to get a slice of the pie that is the technology business and market,” said Stuart Brown, southeast managing director at Accenture. “If you are working in a back office job today, or at a lot of jobs that are repetitive … how do we get those people already embedded in those industries reskilled to drive new value to businesses and also to attract new business here.”
To start to tackle the issue, Accenture brought together representatives from private companies, public agencies and government Aug. 19 for a conversation about potential solutions.
Passion to learn
One way to approach the skills gap is a focus on “re-skilling,” or technical training provided by Suncoast Developers Guild in St. Petersburg and other organizations that focus on coding and software development.
“People want to learn valuable skills that make them competitive in the workforce,” said Toni Warren, Suncoast co-founder and president. “If we didn’t have a code school in Tampa Bay, they would go off to another city that has one, and get jobs in those other cities, and we would lose a great pool of talented innovators, creators, developers.”
The code school industry is only seven years old but has had an economic impact.
“Without a talent pipeline for developers, the startups won’t be able to build their ideas. Companies won’t be able to build products, and they will leave and go places where there is a talent pool of developers,” Warren said.
She described Suncoast as a trade school, teaching the craft of programming. Students don’t need to have a technical background to learn tech skills, but they do need to have a passion to learn and grow.
Venel Rene had just that drive. He had completed one year of grad school and was studying to be a family therapist while working as a youth counselor in Minnesota when he got interested in gaming.
“That was my introduction to software development,” Rene said. That interest was further fueled during an outing with the students. “The kids were there going through the motions, and I was in the back row asking all the questions. That’s when I said ‘this is where I want to be. I don’t know how to get there, but I want to be there.’”
The initial advice he received was to get a four-year degree, but on a developer forum website, he learned about code school. He moved to Florida, where he was in the first cohort of Iron Yard, a now-defunct code-writing academy in St. Petersburg. After graduating, it took several months and more than 100 “no’s” before he got a job at a local startup, Net Synergy Virtual Solutions. After a couple of years there, he’s moved on to Salesforce (NYSE: CRM), a Fortune 500 company with a cloud-based customer relationship management platform.
“I started a role as an engineer and I work on a platform where we help not just corporations but also individuals and veterans,” Rene said. “We get to make learning fun for people.”
At Suncoast, the full-time program takes three months and costs $14,900. Most students get jobs with an average starting salary of $50,000 after graduation, said Warren.
Suncoast’s next full-time academy starts in October, with a part-time program beginning in September.
Rene spoke about his experience at the Accenture gathering last week because he wants people to know that there’s more than one way to achieve their goal.
That’s a key message for the labor force, said Accenture’s Stuart Brown.
“We heard it from the young people who got up and told their stories, how either someone sparked them or something in their lives sparked them, and then they were driven to it. We have to evangelize and get that spark lit,” he said.
Accenture separately has launched an apprenticeship program nationwide. In the Tampa office, the company had six participants in the program, learning technical jobs. They didn’t have to have four-year degrees, Brown said.
“What you see is unbelievable enthusiasm and learning — a sponge to learn and do more. Frankly, in a market where it’s hard to find people with skills, you have to do that,” Brown said.
For apprenticeship or technical training to successfully fill the skills gap, there needs to be buy-in from employers and the technology ecosystem.
“I’d like us to help drive getting that consortium together,” Brown said. “I don’t want this to be a meet-and-greet, everyone gets free breakfast event. I want this to be down and dirty to get exposure and evangelism and to get companies on board, and I want Accenture to help drive that story until it’s to the point that we don’t have to.”