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Why the area needs more IT professionals

Mark Parker



CareerSource Pinellas, local tech-focused companies and St. Petersburg College have partnered to bolster the local information technology workforce. Photo provided.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, software and applications developers are the fourth most advertised occupation in Pinellas County, while computer systems engineers and architects rank 12th.

HR Digest published an article Tuesday morning naming data analytics and science as its fastest-growing careers of 2023. CareerSource Pinellas, local tech-focused companies and St. Petersburg College are increasing efforts to meet the rapidly growing demand.

Jared Womack, director of information services for NetWolves, said the average company’s cybersecurity offerings are  five to 10 years behind. That jumps to between 10 and 15 years for the healthcare sector, underscoring the need for more workers to protect expanding networks from rapidly evolving threats.

“The bad guy only needs to get it right once,” Womack explained. “The good guy needs to get it right every time.”

He added that federal government statistics show companies must safeguard against 1,500 to 3,000 new vulnerabilities monthly. Womack called that a “significant amount of work” and noted that the skills needed to breach networks have decreased dramatically.

CareerSource is dedicating its latest job fair to helping meet the growing need for local information technology (IT) professionals. The event runs from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Wednesday (April 26) at the St. Petersburg College (SPC) EpiCenter.

NetWolves is one of several local employers attending the event at 13805 58th St. N. in Clearwater. Other participants include TD Synnex, Arora Engineers, Encore Global and American Teledata.

Womack explained that many four-year universities fail to adequately prepare people for IT jobs due to a massive courseload that cannot adapt to a continuously changing industry. He believes organizations like SPC and CareerSource “are more dynamic and willing to change with the times.”

“They also set realistic expectations with the student,” Womack said. “Once you get the job, you’re not going to stop learning. Smaller institutions … are teaching the fundamentals, which makes it easy to build on.”

CareerSource’s ultimate goal is stimulating economic growth. Jason Druding, director of business services, said his organization works to achieve that through individual training with the unemployed or underemployed.

It also provides existing workforce training. Druding relayed that if a company needs to educate employees on a new software program, CareerSource could provide appropriate state resources.

The organization – and SPC – often serve socioeconomically disadvantaged people looking to better their lives. Business owners can receive federal tax credits worth between $1,200 and $9,600 for each employee they hire that falls under that category.

“They’re fairly easy to obtain,” Druding said. “Plus, when you couple it with training dollars available through CareerSource through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, it can push into $20,000 per year per person in benefits from a tax perspective. In addition to benefits from a training funding perspective.”

Jason Druding, director of business services for CareerSource Pinellas.

However, he said business leaders must look beyond a resume and baseline competencies. Druding believes transferable skills and a willingness to continuously learn on the job should also factor heavily into the IT hiring process.

He added that a four-year college might not provide the required support system and structure for socioeconomically challenged youth to thrive. Druding said specialized training and earning while learning could offer better options.

Conversely, he noted that the current workforce is aging into retirement, and many young people struggle to afford soaring living expenses, much less education costs. That makes on-the-job training mutually beneficial.

“There aren’t people diving into job opportunities any longer,” Druding said. “It’s a passive environment where job seekers have a lot of power.”

SPC data states that the median salary for Tampa Bay IT professionals is between $77,690 and $99,720. The college also distributes over $6 million in annual scholarships, with many reserved for technology education.

Dr. Jason Krupp, director of career connections at SPC, said the college is working to help underserved populations realize the benefits of tech careers. The Brother to Brother program increases connectivity among the African American community, while Women on the Way promotes STEM (science, education, math and technology) skills in that underrepresented demographic.

Dr. Jason Krupp, director of career services at St. Petersburg College.

“IT is one of the primary occupations that can help those students,” Krupp said. “Or help individuals get out of those impoverished situations. There are a lot of good outcomes that come from those great projects.”

Regardless of previous experience or interest, Womack encourages job seekers to explore the world of IT, as it encompasses so many roles. The political science major explained that he works with developers and systems, business, data and security analysts, and “not one of those people can do the job of someone else.”

He also relayed that many people don’t realize that IT is more than fixing computers, and his career began as a hobby. He said the goal is to identify one area that sparks excitement, and local job seekers will have a chance to do just that Wednesday.

To register for the event, visit the website here.


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