Getting to the Heart of the Tech Talent Challenge

By Ryan Weber

Now’s the time for this region to get ahead of issues looming in the technology work force.

Consider this: Just four years from now, in 2020, there will be 1.4 million open tech jobs for only 400,000 graduates, according to projections from the Department of Labor.  The work-force gap is real and every city in America will be implementing creative strategies to attract tech talent because there simply won’t be enough, anywhere.

It’s been four years since I became the first president of KCnext–The Technology Council of Greater Kansas City. The organization’s goal is to grow and promote Kansas City’s tech industry by providing access between industry professionals, advocacy for the betterment of regional tech issues and workforce solutions.

In my day-to-day work, I have had the pleasure of getting to know technology-industry professionals in the KC region and around the world. I also often find myself in a unique position of working with these individuals to actively address pain points they may be experiencing. In today’s tech scene, the most pressing issue—regardless of company size—is its ability to attract talent.

2016.03-Tech Adviser-QuoteRGBKCnext, with the insight of focus groups, research, advisory boards and our board of directors, realized there are three key components to creating a vibrant high-skilled work force” 1. As a region, we must grow our own. 2. We must be able to retain the talent we do have. 3. We must attract talent to our region.

Even though the region has had some incredible momentum over the past four years, including a triumphant World Series win, we’ve struggled with the ability to attract talent. We have a perception issue. For example, there was a common theme shared in focus groups as to why external candidates choose not to come to Kansas City.

Candidates question whether or not they will be able to find equal or better opportunities at other Kansas City employers. That’s right: Even while they were receiving one job offer, candidates were already considering their next job.

That statement surprised us. There are approximately 3,500-plus tech firms in the Kansas City region, and more than 600 of them are hiring for more than 2,300 open positions. So of course you can find other opportunities.

In an active effort to spread the word that Kansas City is a prime spot for budding and blooming tech talent, we partnered with Black Ops Development to build Chute–Powered by KCnext. The site allows KC employers to promote available technology jobs, with the added benefit of showcasing company culture and regional lifestyle assets.

Since that launch just five short months ago, we’ve been hard at work promoting this new product to job seekers outside of the Kansas City region. We recently partnered with Kansas City-based Pinsight Media+ to deploy an online mobile ad campaign. The insights were impressive.

This campaign generated more than 1.5 million impressions in various markets throughout the United States. Interestingly enough, Chute was most popularly viewed among people living in New York City, Chicago and St. Louis.

Since launch, more than 80 companies have created online profiles and posted nearly 400 jobs on Chute. Most of these jobs are seeking mid- and senior-level talent.

We’ve learned that talented individuals have been drawn to tech employers that clearly articulate their culture. It’s amazing what just a few images and a small amount of text can do to sell your company and employment opportunities to candidates.

Chute is our first strategic move in the war for tech talent, but not our last. Future versions of this portal are in the works, and so are other talent-focused programs.

Recently, Launchcode, a St. Louis-based apprenticeship program, expanded to Kansas City. The program was founded by one of the co-founders of Square, and was created to increase the work force by giving candidates opportunities that might not have otherwise been available.

Nationwide, Launchcode has achieved more than 350 apprenticeship placements in two years. Ninety percent have become full-time employees, with an average salary of $50,000. Additionally, Launchcoders have the ability to learn on the job and gain the necessary skills for full-time employment. In Kansas City, companies like Lockton, UMB Bank, blooom, Red Nova Labs, Commerce Bank and emfluence have joined the program. 

I do believe a rising tide lifts all boats. If we work together to close the talent gap and make Kansas City more competitive, we all win.

About the author

Ryan Weber is president of KCnext— The Technology Council of Greater Kansas City.
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