Initiatives to Bridge IT-Talent Gaps

Steve Partridge, Vice President of Workforce Development, Northern Virginia Community College and Dr. Chad Knights, Provost of Information and Engineering Technologies, Northern Virginia Community College
Steve Partridge, Vice President of Workforce Development, Northern Virginia Community College

Steve Partridge, Vice President of Workforce Development, Northern Virginia Community College

“I cannot find people to fill my open positions.”

We hear this statement frequently from our business community, especially our employers representing the information technology (IT) and cybersecurity industries. It’s no surprise. In the last five years, growth in IT-related jobs has increased 3.5% annually, which is twice the job growth rate for all jobs. That’s 800,000 IT-related jobs added nationwide. The nation’s historically low unemployment rate further exacerbates the high demand for IT talent.

Tech talent is particularly scarce in northern Virginia, where IT workers outnumber the national average 3 to 1. Prior to the news about HQ2, the Washington D.C. metropolitan area continues to be the second largest market for IT job posting demand, ahead of both San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Northern Virginia alone is the largest market for cybersecurity job postings, representing more than 7% of demand nationwide, greater than the entire NYC metropolitan area. More than 112,000 IT job openings are projected over the next decade for our region.

Building Tech Talent Through Community Partnerships

These types of challenges have led to alternative and innovative solutions in education, in close partnership with the business community, to enable individuals to find and enter into tech careers in a variety of new ways.

We know that building the tech talent pipeline has to begin before students arrive on our college campuses – at that point, it’s almost too late. Research from Microsoft has shown that students, particularly females, begin to lose interest in IT as a possible career choice in middle school. Our region recently launched a career awareness campaign called ‘Tech Pathways’ to address this challenge. This first-of-its-kind initiative utilizes an exciting brand and interactive website, and is designed to raise awareness of IT career opportunities among the203,000 middle and high school students in northern Virginia.

We also need to make sure that students are able to have more opportunities to complete their educational path in a timely, flexible, and cost-efficient manner, which is why we now provide credit for prior learning to students enrolling at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). With credit for prior learning, students with industry certifications in IT are able to earn college credit for their demonstrated mastery of certain technical skills and not have to repeat coursework.

Another critical piece to building the tech talent pipeline involves connecting our educational assets with industry needs. In Fall 2018, NOVA collaborated with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to launch an innovative degree to address one of the most pressing skill demands in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area: cloud computing. NOVA’s ‘Cloud’ degree was one of the first cloud computing programs in the nation, and was created as a specializationof an existing degree which allowed NOVA to accelerate the launch of the program.

NOVA’s industry community also includes the United States Armed Services, and in Fall 2019 NOVA,in partnership with the United States Marine Corp and AWS, launched the first Data Analytics course of study in the Virginia Community College System.

 With credit for prior learning, students with industry certifications in IT are able to earn college credit for their demonstrated mastery of certain technical skills and not have to repeat coursework 

Beyond the standard degree, several companies are implementing creative solutions to address their tech talent needs. Lockheed Martin recently partnered with us to launch the Software Associate Program, through which NOVA students are hired after their freshman year for an internship. During the three-year program, students intern for Lockheed Martin while taking college courses, and are placed in the pipeline to obtain a security clearance.Dr. Chad Knights, Provost of Information and Engineering Technologies, Northern Virginia Community College

In addition to internships, some organizations are also establishing apprenticeship programs. While apprenticeship programs have traditionally existed in sectors like manufacturing and construction, many technology firms are seeing the value of using apprenticeship as a customized workforce training solution. Northern Virginia is now home to one of the largest IT apprenticeship programs in the nation, with partners including Amazon Web Services.

The Role of the CIO

The need for tech talent will increase exponentially as the worldrelies more on technology, which will require creative and innovative solutions beyond the traditional educational model.

So where do we go from here? Education relies on the direction of industry -IT leaders can reach out to community collegesto explore opportunities for partnership. For example, a few opportunities that NOVA offers that may already be available or can be duplicated in your region include:

• Curriculum Advisory Boards: Many colleges offer advisory boards, which are intended for members of the local business community to provide direct input into curriculum.

• Contract Training: Close specific industry-wide gaps, community colleges are able to tailor educational programming to ensure relevant outcomes needed for your organization or industry.

• Career Opportunities: Work-based learning and employment opportunities for K-12 and community college can inspire the next generation of tech talent.

We recognize it is a pivotal moment in digital transformation. Tech talent is in greater demand than ever before. As a community college, we are here to support the preparation of our region for the careers of tomorrow.

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