MADISON — Young people are natives when it comes to using technology, from smart phones to tablets, and from social media to video games, but they can be aliens when it comes to working in tech jobs.

Tom Still

Still

Despite the coast-to-coast glut of well-paid jobs in tech professions such as coding, cybersecurity and network management, the pipeline of potential workers is much smaller than what observers would prefer.

With experts predicting there will soon be eight information technology jobs for every qualified applicant, how does the process of training people – the workforce “supply” – keep pace with the demands of industry in virtually every sector?

Four-year colleges and tech colleges in Wisconsin and elsewhere are making strides, but the need for qualified workers now is capturing the attention of two other groups: for-profit colleges that are well positioned to produce qualified students, and federal and state policymakers.

Steve Gunderson, who represented Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District for 16 years, is president of the Washington-based Career Education Colleges and Universities, an association that represents some of the nation’s 2,700 private, for-profit schools. Some of these accredited schools are focused on careers in medical professions, cosmetology, culinary arts and automotive skills, but a growing number are specializing in tech professions.

“We’re not competing with schools such as the UW-Madison and its computer sciences department; we’re more about a different kind of student who wants to earn credentials in a given amount of time, to find a job, or to enhance the jobs they’re already doing,” Gunderson said.

A growing area is cybersecurity, where needs are exploding in sectors ranging from retail to financial to healthcare.

One of the leading producers of cybersecurity talent is the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Ariz., which has been producing graduates in the field since 1998 – before cybersecurity was a commonly used term. It was called “network defense” at the time.

“All we do is tech,” said UAT President Jason Pistillo, a self-described “tech geek” whose school as produced about 5,000 graduates in 20 programs over time through an intense and unique curriculum. Students have hailed from all 50 states and are hired almost as soon as they’re done.

“On any given day, there are 10 jobs for every one of our students,” he said. The demand is especially high in cybersecurity, where 30 percent of UAT graduates have classified credentials and another 20 percent work in jobs where there are non-disclosure agreements in place.

“You can’t swing a stick without hitting one of our (cybersecurity) graduates,” Pistillo said.

He laments the lack of college students studying technology and has worked in Arizona and beyond to build a younger base of students, giving away about 1,200 computers over time and working with K-12 districts on curriculum, coding camps and more.

The talent shortage is why federal and state policymakers seem intent on closing the gap. In Congress, a bipartisan bill that shows promise for states such as Wisconsin is the CHANCE in Tech Act. That’s an acronym for Championing Apprenticeships for New Careers and Employees in Technology.

The bill is a recognition that tech apprenticeships in the United States are largely a patchwork of programs that don’t always result in certificates that are “portable” from one workplace to another.

It would instruct the U.S. Department of Labor to award contracts to industry intermediaries to develop apprenticeships in tech; define how those intermediaries – such as colleges of all types – would work with business; and make apprenticeships available to high school students, early college science and tech students and post-secondary students.

It recognizes that IT professions don’t require a four-year college degree and jobs can be filled with a skilled workforce that has other certified training.

In Wisconsin, several bills have been introduced to encourage more internships and to support “upskilling” of people quickly through what is described as “micro-credentials” in hard-to-fill fields.

Whether it is Congress or the Legislature, there can be partisan hurdles to finding solutions. With worker shortages looming in so many critical tech fields, let’s hope those differences give way to action.

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

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(6) comments

crank

Hoo boy! It didn't take long to pick sides and start ranting about the same political nonsense. Too bad none of it has anything to do with the topic of the article; specifically, tech education.

Physics, not long ago you and I discussed the lack of STEM education available in local public schools despite available funding and grants. You said you've been retired for years but even back then, STEM grants were abundant and available.

Here locally, in the years since you've retired, more money has been spent on technology but the schools are not teaching courses specifically related to technology. Holmen has a funding proposal to spend $ millions on devices for the schools. A few years ago, voters in the district supported a referendum to spend $millions on similar funding. They gave every student a Chromebook. Yet, we haven't heard how this improved education outcomes or improved technology education in the district.

As far as I know, they STILL do not have a single computer programming course. They STILL do not teach the kids specifically about the nuts and bolts of the technology they use daily and how it actually functions. But... they certainly know how to play Minecraft and Fortnite. And they still have wood shop!

PhysicsIsFun

So the Republican answer to needing a more educated workforce is to cut aid to public education and vilify teachers. They say it is because putting more money into education does not produce greater results. I would argue that putting less money into education and attacking the people who educate is sure to bring worse results.

DMoney

If the state added 50% more into the education budget, could we expect 50% better education and results?

PhysicsIsFun

Obviously not. People are just a little more complex than widgets.

Rick Czeczok

As usual your socialist view is all messed up. What we need is more professional people and less liberal arts graduates. What walker did to you is not vilifying teachers. He simply made teacher accountable to the students and not to the unions thus getting rid of the teachers riding the union coat tails. You were one of those let go, why? Because Walker wanted great teachers, not just teachers along for the ride and got rid of so called teachers like you. Now tell us again how great you are but give your name and we can find out. Make a liar out of me, simply give your name and we can resolve the issue once and for all. Like that's going to happen, because you know you would be totally discredited.

PhysicsIsFun

Care to compare educations Ricky? My first degree was from UW - Madison in electrical engineering in 1970. It does not get more technical than that. I worked as an engineer for several years. I was not content, so I got a masters degree in physics so that I could teach. I do not have any liberal arts degrees, but I see nothing wrong with them. Both of my children have degrees in a technical field. It is just easier to get a good job with that type of education. I know you are super stupid, but like I have told you many times. I retired in 2006. Walker was elected in 2010 and took office in 2011. So he had nothing to do with my career. Just like Trump you can not stop telling ridiculous lies. Walker has pretty much ruined teaching as a career in the state of Wisconsin. Your stupid comments aside I know a lot more about this than you do. If Walker wanted great teachers constantly scapegoating them as the cause of Wisconsin's budget woes was a pretty poor way of attracting good ones. That and driving thousands of talented and experienced teachers into early retirement hardly qualifies as a way to improve teaching. Now enrollment in schools of education is down in Wisconsin, so fewer people chose teaching as a career. Walker the anti education governor is a better descriptor.

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