Local groups cultivating new skilled workforce

With close to 4,000 technology companies employing more than 100,000 people—about 18 percent of the city’s workforce—Austin has secured a title as a national technology sector hub. But that has not left the city immune to a current nationwide talent gap in high-tech skills due to new technology trends and a rebound from the Internet bust in 2001.

Dr. Bruce Porter, chairman of the Department of Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, said companies are hiring again, but they have recovered faster than recruitment. Larger tech hubs such as Silicon Valley in California are also experiencing the shortage, but Austin’s talent gap is exacerbated by the city’s rapid population growth and rising demand for software over hardware—a trend shift requiring new tech skills and more training.

Rise of a tech hub

Austin first emerged as a tech hub in the mid-1990s during the nationwide dot-com boom. Companies ranging from small startups to major global tech corporations such as Dell Inc., Apple, Samsung Electronics Co. and IBM have either set up shop or expanded in Austin.

At the same time, the city’s semiconductor and microchip market took off, with companies such as Austin-based Freescale Semiconductor emerging as a global leader. However, the scene began to change in 2001 with the dot-com bust, when Internet companies over-saturated the market, cutting off the demand for tech recruitment and education nationwide.

“Computer science enrollment at UT dropped significantly right after the dot- com bust,” Porter said.

A shift toward software

Austin Greater Chamber of Commerce figures show Austin added 6,000 new tech jobs last year and predicts another 5,000 for this year.

Bryan Jones is founder and CEO of Collider Media Inc., which connects agencies and advertisers with advertising inventory on mobile devices and PCs.

He said for very specific skill sets, there is a job strain, a result of population growth and a change in the tech industry during the past decade.

“Ten years ago, the market was very focused on semiconductors. Now it’s really [focused] on software and software engineers,” he said.

According to local economist Angelos Angelou, the software industry makes up about 20 percent of Austin’s tech industry and is its fastest-growing sector. The software sector consists of 2.6 million people nationwide—roughly 2 percent of the country’s total workforce.

In April, Door64, an Austin-area online technology community, released results of a survey of more than 100 area tech companies on hiring priority. According to its findings, during the first quarter of 2012, of 15 specific technology skills needed, software represented more than half, surpassing all others—hardware, semiconductor and information technology skills—combined.

Within the software sector, there were four skills shown to be in demand: knowledge of Java; user interface/user experience; software quality Aassurance; and .NET, a software development program. Together, those four skill sets accounted for 40 percent of all hiring priorities among responding technology companies.

New efforts

Spring 2012 saw the launch of several new initiatives within the Austin area, including the Austin Technology Council’s formation of a new nonprofit organization, ATC Community Foundation, with the mission to work to educate Central Texas’ next generation of technology students.

In addition, the Austin Chamber of Commerce launched two major initiatives in May: AustinTechSource, a website created to connect job candidates with companies, and Austin TechLive, a downtown hub for startups aimed at creating jobs, recruiting skilled talent and offering a space for training and networking opportunities in partnership with Austin-based accelerator Capital Factory. The facility can house 10 startups downtown and aims to attract 50 new startups to the Austin region.

Chris Durand, chief technology officer at Austin software and application development company Bridge360, said he is always looking for ways to recruit top talent.

“Over the last year, it’s really become a big challenge for us finding the talent we need to continue to grow,” Durand said.

Outlook

According to Porter, UT’s computer science program enrollment has almost doubled in just a few years from 750 in 2007 to 1,351 students today. He said UT has also recently created several new curriculum concentrations including computer game development and entrepreneurship.

By the end of May, more than 2,000 job candidates had posted resumes to AustinTechSource. Thirty-three companies, including Apple, Microsoft Corp., Luminex Corp., Evernote Corp., Bazaarvoice and Bridge360, are registered employers.

Bill Clark, founder of MicroVentures—a company that provides startups with financing—said the hottest trends for investors are social media, mobile and video gaming.

“I think in the past, we’ve seen companies feel the need to go out into [Silicon Valley] to either raise money or find all the talent,” Clark said. “But more recently, we’re seeing companies stay here because the startup ecosystem in Austin is starting to get better.”

Amy Denney contributed to this article.


 
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