Collaborative FiberKC event connects education and business leaders in an effort to create a robust IT workforce supply in Kansas City.
Across the nation, technology employment is growing at twice the rate of the overall job market. The unemployment rate for recent technology graduates is well below the national averages for recent college graduates in other industries, and yet, the technology industry is struggling to employ qualified professionals. In Kansas City, the problem is worsening. Of the technology graduates available, many lack the skill sets necessary to match the needs of hiring businesses, and the gap between the number of open positions in the technology industry and the number of qualified professionals capable of filling those positions continues to grow. Despite low unemployment and high earnings potential, the output of technology graduates has flatlined.
On May 8th, Jeff Melcher, CEO of NetStandard, gathered key business leaders, educators and government representatives in a FiberKC event organized to address Kansas City’s weak university and college output in technology graduates. The event, called Roll Call: KC’s IT Workforce, sought to address the current gap between the number of qualified technology professionals and the number of available technology positions in Kansas City. Held at Johnson County Community College, the event attracted more than 60 attendees, including collaborators from NetStandard, Cerner, KCnext, Kansas State University, Johnson County Community College, the Mid America Regional Council and more as well as students from the Paseo Academy and St. Thomas Aquinas High School who are currently pursuing paths to technology careers.
The half-day work session looked at two problem areas, the number of graduates available and the quality of the technology professionals entering the workforce, focusing on exploring the gap between technology careers and educational output. During the breakout sessions, participants stressed the importance of marketing technology as a viable career path to children before they reach high school. Additionally, participants expressed concern that technology holds a negative stigma for high school and college students. This stigma, participants felt, serves as a barrier for younger people interested in technology fields. From the business sector, employers and influencers shared other concerns: among technology graduates available, many lack the critical thinking and communication skills that make them well-rounded, quality employees. Many business leaders believed that educational institutions should shift their focus to consider businesses as the consumer of their graduates, thus aligning lesson plans with business needs. Additionally, the sessions discovered the need to reward educators who had the greatest educational impact on their technology students and remove those who do not make efforts to prepare students for the business environment.
Following the breakout sessions, Roll Call: KC’s IT Workforce culminated in a wrap-up session to address the next steps for FiberKC. The final brainstorming session explored the possibilities of creating summer workshop programs designed to align teachers with the needs of the business community and internships dedicated to creating awareness for students interested in pursuing technology careers. Additionally, suggestions for bolstering the region’s weak technology workforce included creating hands-on learning programs at high schools (such as student-run help desks and technology-oriented clubs), connecting business and education through a speaker’s bureau, and launching a public relations campaign designed to “rebrand” the image of technology professions.
For more information on FiberKC’s workforce initiatives or to get involved, please contact Terri Sallaz at email@example.com.