Reviews an information technology (IT) workforce engagement initiative that analyzed labor market data and held interactive technology working sessions with employers and other stakeholders in order to understand and develop strategies to support the emerging IT industry in Arizona.

“Arizona…has a growing startup community, increasing venture capital activities, and a rising need for IT talent in a wide range of industries that…also goes beyond jobs in the IT industry sector. The data show that Arizona currently ranks 18th among states in terms of number of IT jobs, and job postings for openings in tech occupations grew by 21 percent in the past year….

Despite a positive growth outlook…there is local concern that the state lacks qualified workers to support the future of IT and that talent is leaving the area for professional opportunities elsewhere. Research…suggests that a significant workforce gap exists in the state’s supply of IT talent that…could diminish the potential growth of Arizona’s economy….

As a result, in 2014 the IT Sector Partnership was launched with the intention of engaging a wide range of stakeholders to address the state’s workforce gap. The partnership aimed to define the challenges facing employers…and then develop and implement strategies to meet those needs. Two of the partnership’s initial areas of focus were to determine a method for deeply understanding the emerging skill requirements of Arizona’s IT talent and to develop a structure for improving connections between employers and the public, nonprofit, and education providers that design workforce training. In doing so, the partnership intended to…begin to develop a talent pipeline of training and work-based learning experiences to prepare local residents for IT occupations” (p.1-2).

The partners faced challenges developing attainable talent development plans from labor market data, and decided that direct industry engagement, through large group discussion facilitated by interactive technology, would be more valuable. “By incorporating interactive technology, the…Partnership was able to drill down to a level of specificity not captured by traditional labor market analyses, while sustaining engagement from a broad range of participants. Over the course of three summits, the…Partnership employed ‘advanced electronic brainstorming,’ an approach designed to support open group brainstorming sessions while allowing the…perspective of participants to be explored in depth. More than 200 professionals…participated in sessions convened by the IT Sector Partnership. Over 70 percent of the participants represented the private sector, with others from government, community-based organizations, and education” (p.4).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“While sustaining and deepening employer engagement is challenging, the IT Sector Partnership left the summit process with a large group of employers eager to continue being involved in the group’s work. And, at the end of the process, the IT Sector Partnership had very specific input and buy-in from a wide range of employers that led to a high-priority list of workforce skills to address and solutions to implement” (p.5). “Key Takeaways • Creative approaches and new ways to gather information are needed in order to identify demand for occupations that cross traditional industry sectors, such as computer and technology workers. • Engage with business early and often when scoping demand in these nontraditional sectors. Start by launching conversations around the larger issues that affect competitiveness, such as image and business climate. • Use interactive technology, like ‘advanced electronic brainstorming,’ to facilitate large group discussions, sustain engagement from a broad range of participants, and narrow in on a priority list of actionable solutions. • Use these and ongoing interactions to build an intentional ‘trust platform’ to foster business engagement and ownership of identifying workforce needs and implementing solutions as a sector” (p.1). “Strategies to Support Arizona’s IT Workforce, Ranked by Employer Priority • Expand offerings of mentorship, internship, and externship programs within Arizona • Encourage IT company involvement in curriculum development in…educational institutions • Involve highly visible leaders of Arizona IT companies in the development of the IT workforce strategy • Develop an outreach program that partners with…education institutions to help educate and attract Arizona IT students” (p.4). “Emerging IT Skills Ranked by Employer Priority • Cybersecurity • Big data/analytics • Cloud enablement • Compliance (HIPAA, etc.) • Data architecture • Mobile apps • Business intelligence • Virtual infrastructure • Large-scale project management • Open source software” (p.5). (Abstractor: Author)