Today’s blog post was written by Molly Castelazo, one of the lead authors of the Arizona Technology Workforce Study. She is president of Castelazo Marketing Ltd., a full-service marketing and communications firm that specializes in content development – helping clients engage their audiences and communicate their messages.
It seems strange, with an unemployment rate at its highest in many decades, that employers would talk about not being able to find enough workers to meet their needs. Yet the headlines, nationally and in Arizona, abound: employers can’t find enough workers to meet their demand. What’s going on? Shouldn’t employers have their quick pick from a huge pool of prospective employees?
One answer to those questions comes from the soon-to-be-released study Arizona’s Technology Workforce: Issues, Opportunities & Competitive Pressures, and it is this: Arizona’s technology employers don’t have as much difficulty finding technology workers as the headlines might suggest. And where they have difficulty it’s not because of a shortage of computer scientists, engineers, or scientists, but rather a shortage of job candidates in those fields who have particular skills and experience.
To back up a bit… Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, had been reading the headlines about skilled labor shortages and hearing from technology leaders in Arizona about their difficulty finding technology talent. So he approached the Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University about conducting a workforce study that would focus on the manpower needs of high-technology companies operating in Arizona.
A centerpiece of the Study was a survey of and follow-up interviews with technology employers in Arizona. The full Study report is 170 pages long and even the Executive Summary is far too detailed to recount here, so I’ll highlight what I think are the juiciest findings:
1) Despite what might be popular conception, Arizona is not repellent of technology talent. The technology employers we surveyed reported that in some cases job candidates were resistant to moving anywhere (because of difficulty in selling a house, kids in school, spouse’s job, etc.) but very few reported any resistance to moving to Arizona specifically.
2) 67, 76, and 98 percent of the employers we surveyed found it at least somewhat difficult to attract qualified engineers, computer scientists, and scientists, respectively. Yet for every single company the issue was not the availability of computer scientists or engineers or scientists per se. For many, the difficulty is finding workers with at least 2 years of highly relevant experience. But if all companies want only to hire workers with at least two years of highly relevant experience, that begs the question: where will the workers get the experience? Companies may need to increase their willingness to grow talent within (as some said they are now doing) and/or hire recent graduates who have hands-on experience through internships and capstone-like courses.
3) There are some really incredible programs at the state’s colleges, universities, and workforce development agencies that companies could take far better advantage of. The state’s One-Stop workforce development and training centers, for example, provide programs for unemployed technology workers and those who are currently working but want to enhance their skill sets – the One-Stops could be a great resource for employees to get the skill sets employers are looking for. At the community colleges and universities, too, there is a wealth of resources for employers to find students with the skills they’re looking for, and to collaborate with the school in training students to the skill sets and experience that companies are looking for. ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering career services personnel, for example, first meet with the employer and use a consulting-like approach to determine what the employer’s needs are. Then, they put the company on a “roadmap for engagement” – which might include job shadowing, capstone courses, and internships, in addition to attendance at the career events.
These three findings represent a small percentage of the findings of the Study. The Executive Summary, at the least, is well worth a read. It offers a comprehensive overview of the supply-side findings (Where are Arizona employees coming from? Is Arizona training enough technology workers?) and demand-side findings (What is a “qualified” technology worker? Is there a gap between supply and demand?). Get the Executive Summary at the December 6th press conference or at aztechcouncil.org after the 6th.
About the Study
The Arizona Technology Workforce Study was conducted by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. The primary research team included Kent Hill, Ph.D., Research Professor and Principal Investigator; Molly Castelazo, Consultant; and Dennis Hoffman, Ph.D., Professor of Economics and Director, L. William Seidman Research Institute.
The work undertaken in the 15-month long study was made possible with primary funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and through the support of the U.S. Department of Labor, Arizona Department of Economic Security, Governor’s Council on Workforce Policy and the Arizona Commerce Authority. Additional support was provided by Arizona State University, Maricopa Community Colleges, Salt River Project, and the Arizona Technology Council and its members.