By Suma Nallapati, CIO for the State of Colorado
We in the tech business talk a lot about the “tech talent pipeline.” How do we fill all the available tech jobs when the pool of qualified candidates is so much smaller than the demand? And, how do we ensure that we are “growing our own” to fill those jobs?
Well, it starts with simple things. It starts with recognizing the youth in our community who may not have the basic tools to even entertain a career in tech, much less successfully complete their education. During a recent workshop for Denver Public Schools students, we asked, “How many of you have a computer in your home?” Out of ten students, two raised their hands. Think about that. These kids type their papers on their smartphones if they have one. When it comes time to take tests, even the basic computer skills that are intuitive to many students become as challenging as the content they’re trying to master on the test.
What does this have to do with the “tech talent pipeline?” If we level the playing field for these kids in the classroom (e.g., ensure they have accessibility to computers, offer STEM classes, provide private sector support for opportunities outside the classroom) and then offer an alternative pathway to a career, we can move the needle in two areas. We can increase our talent pool and we can change lives.
The state of Colorado has recognized that college is not necessarily the only way to a job in technology and other careers. In 2016 Governor Hickenlooper announced the start of a nonprofit called CareerWise, which brings together public and private stakeholders. The organization is focused on developing and supporting an innovative, sustainable youth apprenticeship program inspired by the Swiss model. This model allows juniors and seniors in high school to start three-year apprenticeships while in school, learning the skills they need for full-time employment while earning a training wage. The intent is for a student to be armed with the necessary entry-level skills and possibility to be employed full-time at the same company at the completion of the program. This is a win-win for both the company and the student — a start to a fulfilling career and a company with a growing pipeline of highly-trained talent. The Governor’s Office of Information Technology plans to offer apprenticeships for CareerWise students starting in 2018.
I will leave you with this thought from one of the high school students who visited us recently. He writes, “I appreciate every chance I get to step out of my daily grind and see firsthand the reasons why I am working so hard and striving to be better– it’s to attain a profession that I am passionate about.” If we support that passion and then tap into it, we can truly make a difference for our business and our community.