Working to diversify the region's tech workforce

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A screen grab from the website for Philly Tech Week 2017.

Philly Tech Week, now coming to a close with an expected 20,000 attendees at more than 100 events across the region, has become a major showcase of Philadelphia’s thriving tech ecosystem. This picture of Philadelphia as a growing tech hub may be news to many, but not to us. Our region has come to rely on tech and, in particular, our tech workforce as a significant source of growth and opportunity.

New analysis by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia shows that more than 102,000 people in the region work in IT occupations and area employers have added 25,000 new tech jobs since 2002 — equivalent to 25 percent of all net job growth during that period. The blossoming of this workforce is a major bright spot for the region, both in its potential to drive business growth and expand opportunity for residents. But even with this recent growth, many employers are struggling to find the skilled employees they need to compete and continue to grow.

A significant contributor to this challenge, faced at both the national and regional level, is a pronounced lack of gender and racial diversity. In this area, women hold just 26 percent of tech jobs, while African Americans and Hispanics hold 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively. While these figures are slightly better than most other U.S. metros, they are far from reflective of our region. A deeper and more diverse talent pool would narrow the gap between labor supply and employer demand, enable regional companies to grow faster, and connect residents to family-sustaining careers.

Many organizations are already hard at work to prepare future IT workers, from colleges and universities to coding bootcamps and training programs. One successful example is Zip Code Wilmington, which combines a 12-week software development training curriculum with a 26-week apprenticeship. Working with local corporations like JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, the program serves students from a wide range of backgrounds and has a 93 percent job-placement rate within three months of graduation.

The Economy League and a broad coalition of regional leaders have engaged in an in-depth research and strategy initiative over the past year to better understand our IT workforce and outline an action framework to strengthen it.

Two regional organizations have made early commitments to advance elements of the action framework, which was unveiled earlier this week. The Innovative Technology Action Group, an industry-led workforce partnership based in Chester County, is working to expand the community of regional employers that it convenes regularly to discuss workforce needs and solutions. And the Philadelphia Regional Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management has committed to engaging HR professionals around hiring practices amid a rapidly changing tech environment.

Driving tech talent growth is a long-term proposition that will require sustained, collaborative focus by a wide range of firms, institutions, government agencies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations. We now have a roadmap for high-impact strategies and tactics to increase incumbent worker training, align and scale education and training programs, and raise awareness of tech careers among underrepresented populations.

The actions that we take today will help the region leverage the potential of our tech workforce as a driver of growth and opportunity for all.

Lenfest Foundation Executive Director Stacy Holland (sholland@lenfestfoundation.org), Cloudamize CEO Bob Moul (rlmoul@gmail.com), and Chariot Solutions Chief Marketing Officer Tracey Welson-Rossman (twr@chariotsolutions.com) are co-chairs of the Economy League’s tech workforce initiative. To read the Driving Tech Talent Growth in PHL report, visit economyleague.org/techworkforce.