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March 6, 2017

How Can Employers Diversify the IT Workforce?

techcities 2017 panel“There are not enough technologists to do the work we have,” said Damu McCoy, senior director, talent acquisition, Target Corp. when responding to the question, why do we need more diversity in the IT workforce. McCoy was part of a five-member panel at the 2017 Tech Cities Conference produced by the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota.

“We can’t solve the business challenges we face unless we find more employees,” McCoy added. “Our clients are diverse, and we need diverse talent to innovate solutions for their needs.”

IT job postings in Minneapolis have risen by 65 percent in the last five years, with nearly 52,000 jobs open just last year, reported panelist moderator Sue Wallace, executive director, Minnesota, Creating IT Futures. Creating IT Futures has run its IT-Ready career program in the Twin Cities since 2012 and trained more than 350 people to help fill those jobs.

Panelist Heather McGannon, director of projects and planning, MN Department of Labor, mentioned a McKinsey study that found, “Racial diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35 percent. Diversity breeds innovation.”

McGannon works with the registered apprentice programs of Minnesota. “In 1937, the registered Apprenticeship Act was written to give more opportunities to African Americans,” said McGannon. “This employment-based training model creates an earn-while-you-learn program to get more people into jobs.”

“While the unemployment rate in IT is around two percent, we have some pockets of our communities in Minneapolis with 16 and 25 percent unemployment,” said Tammy Dickinson, career pathways coordinator, City of Minneapolis – Community Planning and Economic Development. “These people need and want jobs. IT training is a perfect avenue for them.”

The City of Minneapolis offers two programs to help diversify the local IT workforce. StepUp puts high school students in internships with employers. Ninety percent of the students in the program are people of color. The city also launched MSP TechHire two years ago, and has trained 500 people for IT jobs through its partnerships with Creating IT Futures, Software Guild and Prime Digital Academy. Of those 500, 439 are currently working in IT, said Dickinson.

Beyond its IT-Ready program, Creating IT Futures helps employers connect with students and develop internships that are beneficial for both the employer and student. Over the past two summers, more than 200 students from Chicago Public School’s Early College STEM program have taken part in these internships. Panelist John Rico, president and CEO, Rico Computers Enterprises, Inc., hired several of those interns.

“IT is embedded into every industry,” said Rico. As the oldest minority IT firm in the Midwest, his company manages the wi-fi systems for O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport in Chicago, among other projects. Last summer he hired 15 high school and college interns to work on the apps for the management of those wi-fi systems. “We gave them a peek into the industry.”

To develop diverse talent, McCoy recommends three best practices:

  1. Commit to routines. Don’t just try to be diverse through a couple of campaigns. It needs to be an every-day commitment.
  2. Deepen relations with your local communities. Get young people inspired early.
  3. Use innovative approaches. Be willing to try something different.