A Few Thoughts On Training A Skilled Technology Workforce In Georgia

Screenshot 2015-12-02 at 15.37.14
Codecademy: One of the many online tutorial sites to learn various programming languages and other IT skills
Screenshot by Nathan Smith

I wasn’t able to make the PolicyBEST breakfast this morning, but I did see a few highlights about the booming technology sector in Georgia. One in particular was from Jon Richards regarding Governor Nathan Deal’s statement on Georgia needing a skilled workforce to meet the needs of business:

Georgia is rich in the technology business, as I’ve said on here before, and there needs to be (and are) talented Georgians to fill positions within those businesses. We need a good education system to build a foundation on which people can learn on their own, but the burden of developing the technical workforce shouldn’t fall totally on the shoulders of our public education institutions.

There has been public debate on whether or not there is truly a shortage of people with “IT skills” (programming, systems administration, storage, networking, and other technical skills). An article by Baron Schwartz from TechCrunch disputing the shortage is probably one of the more provocative articles I’ve read. The author’s premise is that the shortage is a lie, and that the real shortage is the number of companies who invest in the development of talented people.

I can understand why that perception is there. Just go out to /r/sysadmin on reddit or read some of the comments on LinkedIn linking to articles reinforcing the position that there is a shortage. You’ll see a few accounts of how job postings want, for example, a systems administrator who can do the job of a networking guy and a storage guy but will only pay the salary of a sysadmin, or a job posting for a junior-level position requiring a laundry list of skills plus previous experience in that specified area (I’ve always been under the impression that the junior-level is where you learn from mentors and build your skill sets).

A lot of this has to do with the mindset of some companies that IT (staff, equipment, services, etc) is an expense that affects the bottom line rather than a investment in their business. Thoughts of saving money by consolidating That’s not to say that businesses shouldn’t use their IT dollars wisely, but providing good benefits, environment, and developing staff will be an attractant to talent.

One thing that strikes me is that many IT positions have a requirement of a 4-year degree, but there are a lot of talented people who want a career in technology, but they don’t have that piece of parchment. I believe our technical colleges and even technical classes in high school can do a lot for building the foundation for a career in technology (analysis, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.), but we should even think more broadly. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are available to teach some basic IT skills, like the basics of Linux, and even offer certifications. Interactive tutorials are also available that can teach basic programming skills and new programming languages. In fact, a lot of these tutorials are freely available if you have a computer and an Internet connection. It’s a new paradigm in developing these skills: online and on-demand vs. traditional teacher-led class.

In short, preparing Georgians for the technology needs of businesses is a shared responsibility. It’s a team effort between our state’s educational system, businesses investing in developing and growing talent, and individuals who work to invest in themselves to learn and hone their skills to meet the demand.

7 comments

  1. Charlie says:

    Actually Nathan, your last paragraph is a perfect jumping off point to the last policy area we highlighted at the close of the breakfast.

    PolicyBEST was invited to participate with a task force set up by the Metro Chamber of Commerce specifically to do just that. The proposals are nearing the final stage, but the very abbreviated version is a call to create Education to Industry Partnerships.

    The EIP’s would group three or more employers needing the same skill within a region, and utilize mostly existing programs (i.e, money already budgeted at the state and federal level, possibly combined with additional investment from the industries) to tailor specific job training for areas where there are known and lingering shortages.

    It’s not about creating yet another jobs program as it is working within the current system to bring industry to the table, and make existing programs work better. With industry bringing assets and energy to the table to make it happen.

    I look forward to continuing to work with MAC and the task force members to iron out the last details and get this program working. It’s a rare case where the problem isn’t political opposition (there really isn’t any), but just getting the various folks who have a piece of this puzzle together at the same table to solve a problem we all have a share in.

    • Nathan says:

      It’s like y’all read my mind…or something. 🙂

      Great to hear about the progress and cooperation between the state and private enterprise.

  2. UrbanSuburbanist says:

    “You’ll see a few accounts of how job postings want, for example, a systems administrator who can do the job of a networking guy and a storage guy but will only pay the salary of a sysadmin, or a job posting for a junior-level position requiring a laundry list of skills plus previous experience in that specified area (I’ve always been under the impression that the junior-level is where you learn from mentors and build your skill sets).”

    That’s the dirty little secret: companies are trying to save money. First off, Georgia has a lot of tech jobs, but salaries here are far lower than they are in the major tech centers … like 30% to 40% lower. That plays a major role in why companies relocate as much of their NONCRITICAL work here as possible. Another thing: because of the economy and whatnot, as well as the fact that Atlanta is a “tradeup market” (where people with tech experience oft relocate to) then it isn’t too hard for them to find someone willing to either wear three hats in return for having a job, or an experienced guy who is willing to take on a junior role so they can work in (and move to) Atlanta as opposed to the smaller city that they are in now. This is something that they could not get away with during the dot com boom in the 1990s, but right now the companies and hiring managers are holding most of the cards.

    “One thing that strikes me is that many IT positions have a requirement of a 4-year degree, but there are a lot of talented people who want a career in technology, but they don’t have that piece of parchment. I believe our technical colleges and even technical classes in high school can do a lot for building the foundation for a career in technology (analysis, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.), but we should even think more broadly. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are available to teach some basic IT skills, like the basics of Linux, and even offer certifications. Interactive tutorials are also available that can teach basic programming skills and new programming languages.”

    Sorry, but this is just wrong. Sure, you can fill a lot of low level IT positions (think support and basic administration) jobs that way. But things like security, data mining, large networks, server applications etc. are just as heavy duty as engineering and hard sciences and require higher level thinking and elite training. Just like you wouldn’t want the guy who designed the medical equipment that the neurosurgeon is going to use in a deep brain procedure to rely on vocational and online training, you don’t want the guy who designs the network that the medical equipment runs on to be a Chattahoochee Tech product either. And tech certifications are not the equal of, say, bar exams or medical board examinations. You can pass those with a combination of memorization skills, test prep guides and 6 week “boot camps.” Not the sort of thing that you want to rely on when it comes to hiring someone that is capable of building a network that can secure your data.

    Building a competitive IT sector isn’t the equivalent of training people to build sets and be gaffers and grips for the franchise sequels that Hollywood unloads here for the tax credits. It is going to take years of hard, dedicated work. First you have to educate a large number of kids – going back as far as middle school – on math, science and I would even say the more rigorous and advanced liberal arts topics (because the classics help train you in the sort of abstract and creative thinking that it takes to be innovative and solve new problems, so some Chaucer and Homer to go along with that trigonometry please) and then the state will need several good university level STEM research programs. Think tanks and study committees who try to contrive short cuts around it won’t get the job done. If it were that easy, everyone would have done it, and we would have had booming IT sectors in Mississippi and Nebraska by now.

    • UrbanSuburbanist says:

      Another thing: there is also only so much on the job training that companies are capable of providing. (The reason is that a lot of the problems that they are trying to solve, they don’t know the answer to either!) And the idea that you can just take a guy who has learned a few basic skills on line (usually knowledge a mile wide but an inch deep) and have him become an area expert by acquiring experience isn’t realistic because there isn’t a lot that you can learn while still having to do your job. So instead of starting out as the basic skills guy and working their way up to designer or architect, most start as the basic skills/low level guy and stay there. So it is going to be the guys who received a competitive education at a strong engineering, compsci or IT program at a top college that are going to be the ones that have more expertise than the people already working at the company – the ones responsible for this “on the job training” (which they would have to provide to other employees while still being responsible for doing their own jobs … how fair is that?) possess.

  3. greencracker says:

    “how job postings want, for example, a systems administrator who can do the job of a networking guy and a storage guy but will only pay the salary of a sysadmin, or a job posting for a junior-level position requiring a laundry list of skills plus previous experience in that specified area”

    Or, in small places especially, the boss doesn’t know the difference between a sysadmin and a network person and a storage person and a computer programmer and a web scraper and a database person throws it all under the heading “alchemy” anyway.

Comments are closed.