Opinion: Ways to help close tech talent gap

Boosting Georgia’s tech-savvy workforce will add fuel to the already-humming innovation economy.

The innovation economy runs on brainpower. Unfortunately, our supply of talented people needed to fuel innovation and growth is getting low. As technology leads the economic recovery, the tech talent gap is getting wider.

“The demand for IT talent has never been higher,” according to a new report by Marietta-based Softensity. “Tech job postings are up 39 percent over 2020, nearing pre-COVID highs. And companies are doubling down on emerging technologies, which is shining a spotlight on the growing skills gap that many organizations face.”

In December 2021, Georgia’s unemployment rate reached its all-time low of 2.6 percent. Going into 2022 the unemployment rate for tech workers is an astonishing -3 percent, which means there are far more job openings than qualified job candidates.

Credit: © 2019 Robin Henson

Credit: © 2019 Robin Henson

Why is the tech job market so imbalanced? Gartner’s Emerging Technology Roadmap for Large Enterprises says 54 percent of IT and Infrastructure & Operations leaders are increasing their investment in emerging technology, up from 29 percent in 2020. According to that report, 64 percent of IT execs said the talent shortage is the biggest roadblock to adopting emerging technology. Only 4% felt this way in 2020.

While the widening tech talent gap poses a risk to our economy, it’s not too late to do something about it. By taking the right steps, we can create a workforce that matches the job skills of the future and fuels sustainable growth, faster innovation and a higher standard of living. Below are four ways to close the tech talent gap.

1) Support STEM education: By investing in STEM education, we’re giving young people skills that make them more employable and ready to meet future labor demand. To that end, TAG-Ed, the education and career development arm of TAG, is proud to support Georgia STEM Day March 4. TAG-Ed successfully advocated for teaching computer science in every Georgia public school by 2025, hosts coding camps for kids and has given out almost $185,000 in scholarships to help people pursue STEM-related careers over the past 10 years. I was pleased Gov. Brian Kemp in his 2022 budget awarded $1 million to Georgia Youth Science & Technology Centers. The more we come together to support STEM today, the better our workforce will be prepared for tomorrow.

2) Invest in training and upskilling: Digital technology is disrupting how we work and interact with each other. How can we adapt to new conditions in the workplace? Reskilling is a sustainable and cost-effective way to help employees stay engaged in their jobs and remain relevant in a rapidly evolving digital economy. TAG works with the Technical College System of Georgia on upskilling IT people, and we support private- and public-sector programs to train workers in cybersecurity, cloud computing, battery technology and other burgeoning fields.

3) Groom the next generation of tech leaders: We could all use a little help navigating the workplace, and that is especially true for mid-career employees working in technology. A new TAG-Ed program I’m proud of is Pathways to Leadership, or P2L. P2L is geared to elevating the careers of high-performing, up-and-coming leaders. It’s a way for companies to invest in their most powerful competitive advantage: people. Employers gain a unique opportunity to develop the next generation of technology leaders, and participants learn directly from industry experts through open discussion sessions and hands-on projects.

4) Open opportunities in underserved communities: I strongly believe inclusion drives innovation, just as innovation drives inclusion. By helping connect people in underrepresented talent pools with job opportunities, everybody wins. But we have to do better on this front. According to PwC, less than half of human resource leaders are focused on inclusive leadership. Let’s come together to recruit talent in underserved communities and support tech training and apprenticeships for employees who would not otherwise get access to these programs.

The possibilities of the innovation economy are boundaryless. But to achieve our potential we have to include everyone -- from students in disadvantaged communities to workers seeking upskilling to people who have limited access to technology. No one should be left behind.

Larry K. Williams is president and CEO, Technology Association of Georgia.