By Ken Datzman, Brevard Business News
ROCKLEDGE — Since 2010, the information technology services and custom software services category has powered job growth in America, accounting for an estimated 1.9 million new jobs.
And with digital transformation now taking hold across most sectors of business, the outlook for continuing technology employment growth remains positive.
The top three states for technology employment gains in 2018 were California (51,567), Florida (18,187) and Texas (17,855), according to “Cyberstates 2019,” a closely followed guide that tracks national, state, and metropolitan–area tech–sector analytics and is published annually by the Computing Technology Industry Association, or CompTIA.
But while the forecasts for job growth are upbeat, the information technology industry’s tight labor market and skills gap continues to affect companies across various segments, from health care to advanced manufacturing to cybersecurity, and beyond.
In April, the unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent, the lowest since December 1969, as reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The unemployment rate in Brevard County is 3.3 percent.
The current demand for tech talent exceeds supply in many markets, including locally. Consequently, employers and workforce organizations can no longer fall back on yesterday’s approaches to developing and recruiting talent.
“There’s been a huge paradigm shift for us, and for the workforce system as a whole. Today, you must be able to train people based on what industry says it needs in the workplace, as opposed to training people and hoping to ‘plug–and– place’ in various positions,” said Judy Blanchard, vice president of industry relations for CareerSource Brevard, part of a statewide workforce development network known as CareerSource Florida.
One acute workforce need today is people with credentials in information technology. And CareerSource Brevard is offering CompTIA certifications and the Microsoft Office Specialist certified program to help companies fill persistent tech–worker shortages.
These hands–on, instructor–led training programs are free of charge for qualified candidates, thanks to a grant that CareerSource Brevard won.
“We’re offering the classes during the day and during the evening at various locations to make it convenient for people,” said Marci Murphy, CareerSource Brevard president.
“That’s very important, because we want to reach as many people as possible who are interested in earning these certifications. They are the beginning steps, the building blocks to a career in these particular fields.”
Employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent through 2026, faster than the average for all occupations, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Demand for these types of workers will be driven by a greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security.
“Information technology is the ‘glue’ for all the different sectors of business and industry — health care, advanced manufacturing, aviation and aerospace, cybersecurity, and so forth,” said Gary Sulski, the information technology sector strategy program manager at CareerSource Brevard.
“Within these different areas of business there are all types of information technology jobs, from entry level to very high–paying positions.”
For example, there are “a lot of people in Brevard who work under the ‘radar screen’ doing federal government and global cybersecurity with companies and entities. And we have a huge cloud exposure with our local facilities. So understanding these different sectors and being able to serve each one with qualified applicants requires some unique certifications and training for individuals looking to tap into IT job opportunities,” he added.
Sulski’s organization is now providing that training and industry certifications to help underemployed, military veterans, women, and others enter the information technology field and build careers.
The breakneck speed of technology and enterprise adoption means promising career opportunities for information technology professionals and a wide number of paths to get there.
In 2017, CareerSource Brevard was awarded a $2.4 million “America’s Promise” grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to hone an information technology sector strategy centered on meeting the talent needs of Brevard’s IT industry.
CareerSource Brevard uses sector strategies in other industries, including manufacturing, health care, and aerospace, working with a consortium of stakeholders and partners. The sector strategies are industry–led approaches to workforce and economic development that align to meet employer needs in regional labor markets.
Designed to expand regional job– training partnerships among workforce agencies, educational institutions, training providers, and employers, America’s Promise grants totaled $111 million. The grants were divided among 23 regional workforce partnerships in the United States.
CareerSource Brevard and Florida State College at Jacksonville were the only awardees of this grant in Florida, said Murphy. “And we were the only workforce board in Florida to be awarded an America’s Promise grant.”
She said her organization is partnering with CareerSource Central Florida, a subgrantee, in an effort to collaboratively grow the information technology talent pipeline throughout the region.
Awarded in 2017, CareerSource Brevard manages the four–year grant and works closely with Brevard’s information technology employers, and education and economic development partners.
The grant is designed to accelerate the development and expansion of workforce partnerships that provide a pipeline of skilled workers in specific, in–demand sectors like information technology.
“We are midway through the grant and we’re seeing some great successes working with our partners,” said Sulski, who has wide experience in business development, operations and marketing in the information technology industry.
The partners include industry leaders, senior–level leadership from workforce and economic development organizations, secondary and post-secondary education institutions, elected officials, and other community stakeholders.
Funded through fees paid by employers to bring foreign workers into the U.S. under the H–1B temporary visa program, America’s Promise grants are intended to raise the technical skill levels of U.S. workers and, over time, help businesses reduce their reliance on temporary visa programs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
CareerSource Brevard’s America’s Promise grant has a “pure information technology focus,” said Sulski, adding, “We asked employers which certifications they needed for the specific jobs they are hiring for and they cited the CompTIA training and Microsoft Office Specialist most often.”
CompTIA offers internationally recognized information technology certifications to help individuals keep up with the digital world, from entry–level skills to advanced training in computing support, security, networking, Linux development, and the cloud.
Because CompTIA is a “vendor– neutral” certification and doesn’t focus on a specific technology, its certifications apply to a wide range of information technology careers.
Many employers have stepped up efforts to help existing employees pursue information technology certifications and other professional development credentials as a way to offset the lack of external candidates for jobs in newer skill areas.
The information technology industry’s tight labor market and tech–skills gap continue unabated. “In fact, it’s not just a problem for the technology industry, but one that is affecting most every industry in the economy,” said Sulski.
The information technology certifications offered through CareerSource Brevard’s partners are a good way for tech companies to expand their pipelines in an effort to boost the number of those under– represented in the industry, such as women, for example, who are looking to return to the workforce.
“More women are pursuing the IT field, and that’s great. We’re seeing that from our angle,” he said. “Maybe they earned a degree 10 or 15 years ago, raised their children, and now want to gain employment and be relevant in today’s job market. These certifications give them an opportunity to get back into the workforce.”
Sulski added, “The training is also ideal for people with disabilities. A lot of people with various disabilities find that information technology is a perfect field for them to grow a career and make a life of their own, versus being dependent on somebody else.”
One fast–growing area of information technology is cybersecurity. From April 2017 through March 2018, there were 122,000 openings for information security analysts, according to “CyberSeek,” whose partners include CompTIA, Burning Glass Technologies, and the National Institute of Cybersecurity Education.
There are nearly 200,000 additional openings requesting cybersecurity–related skills, and employers are struggling to find workers who possess them.
For example, jobs requesting public cloud security skills remain open 79 days on average — longer than almost any other information technology skill, says CyberSeek.
Another strong–growing segment of information technology is artificial intelligence.
“Every article I’ve read about artificial intelligence really drives home the importance of digital intelligence, and it’s only going to become more critical in the years ahead,” said Murphy. “So we are well positioned to help people with our MOS certification training under America’s Promise grant.”
The Microsoft Office Specialist is the global standard for business communication. The Microsoft Office suite is used in almost every career path today. Employers are looking for computer–user support specialists, project coordinators, training and development specialists, and administrative services managers, for instance.
Within the CompTIA family, CareerSource Brevard is specifically offering CompTIA “A+” technician training, which is the industry standard for establishing a career in information technology, and the CompTIA “IT Fundamentals” program.
CompTIA IT Fundamentals is intended for individuals whose jobs require them to have a foundational level understanding of information technology terminology, but are not necessarily involved in the same day–to–day, hands–on work as an IT professional. It is also relevant for organizations that want to promote and verify fluency in IT terminology and concepts among new employers.
Sales associates, sales engineers, account managers, business development managers, product and marketing specialists, and entry level customer support personnel are just a few of the job categories that can benefit from earning this credential.
The credential is also important for people who are considering a career change and are looking at the information technology sector for employment.
In just three weeks or so, enrollees can gain CompTIA IT Fundamentals and CompTIA A+ skills and certifications, and be ready for hire by employers.
“When they walk out of the program with these certifications, employers tell us, they are ready to be the knowledge experts in their particular areas of certification,” said Sulski.
Both day and night classes are available for the CompTIA programs and the Microsoft Office Specialist certification. The latter is a four–week session.
The next set of classes for Microsoft Office Specialist is scheduled June 3 (daytime) and June 17 (evening).
For CompTIA A+, the start date is June 3 (evening class). And for the CompTIA IT Fundamentals training the start date is June 17 (daytime class).
To sign up for the CompTIA A+ training, complete the application at https://CareerSourceBrevard.com/apply, and register in Employ Florida. For more information on this program, contact [email protected]
To sign up for the Microsoft Office Specialist program, complete the application at https://CareerSourceBrevard.com/ apply, and register in Employ Florida. For more information on this offering, contact [email protected]
CareerSource Brevard’s pilot program with this grant engaged the underemployed people in Brevard. “With the unemployment rate being as low as it is in the county, we have to look at the underemployed,” said Murphy.
“These are people who are working part time or are working and just making minimum wage. They are just one financial emergency away from triggering a domino effect in their lives. They are part of what’s called the ‘ALICE’ population. We need to get them into better jobs.”
ALICE refers to the population in communities that are “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.” The ALICE population represents those who are working, but because of child–care costs, transportation challenges, the high cost of living, and much more, are living paycheck–to–paycheck. This is an often– overlooked population. “There are a lot of people in Brevard facing that situation. So we’re focused on that population as well,” she said.
In early April, CareerSource Brevard hosted its first Information Technology Job Fair. The event was held at the Space Coast Health Foundation’s Center for Collaboration in Rockledge.
“We had 120 job–seekers who visited with 19 information technology employers,” said Sulski. “For a specific job fair, that number was a really good turnout. We had five breakout–session speakers who talked about the different professions within the IT sector, such as health care, aviation, and aerospace. The speakers talked about trends in the industry and the hot jobs. We brought our knowledge experts from the area to be the speakers.”
“This is a new model for CareerSource Brevard — putting together a job fair with career exploration,” added Murphy. “The dual format turned out to be very successful.”
As a result of the Information Technology Job Fair, more than 40 people showed interest and signed up for the CompTIA programs at that event, said Sulski. “There is a vetting process and CompTIA is working closely with us because they want to see great outcomes, just like we do. They want to see positive results. They want to see each individual who comes into the program pass the examination. CompTIA is providing us with in–house assessment tools.”
He added that CareerSource Brevard will be “actively involved with the employment of the program graduates. We will be putting employers and graduates together and getting them into positions as quickly as possible. They are going to come out of the program very enthusiastic, looking ahead to a new career path in their lives.”
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