Northeast Ohio’s IT base continues to grow

No one thinks of Northeast Ohio as a tech center comparable to the likes of Seattle or Silicon Valley, but as manufacturing jobs severely contracted in the early 2000s, the region’s economy diversified, and IT was and continues to be an integral part of that change.

“As manufacturers stopped producing products here, businesses realized that this is still a really good place to run a company because we have a lot of the wraparound services that make it easy,” said Jacob Duritsky, vice president of research and strategy for Team NEO, a nonprofit economic development organization for the 18-county Northeast Ohio region.

“There is a perception that Northeast Ohio does not have an IT base that other markets have, and it’s true that Google is not headquartered here and Twitter is not here, but IT is a key component to all the growth sectors in our region,” he added.

According to Team NEO data in a new report, “Navigating the Next Normal: Information Technology Strength,” the IT workforce in Northeast Ohio grew by 18% from 2016 to 2019, from about 39,500 to nearly 47,000. The top five IT positions were not directly related to software or the software development industry and instead were within other industries, including the legal, insurance and hospital sectors. Those jobs make up more than three-quarters of all tech employment overall in the region.

“You have these companies whose products may not look like ‘software,’ but they are heavily dependent on technology and IT tools,” Duritsky said.

But there is momentum in more purely tech sectors. Duritsky said the “Navigating the Next Normal” report notes that demand for computer and IT workers was second only to health care practitioners in 2019, according to data from Moody’s Analytics.

To truly understand the labor market realities in IT in Northeast Ohio, Team NEO and the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s talent arm, RITE, worked collaboratively on drilling down into the specifics of what IT skills companies need — in part by asking what types of projects they plan on investing in over the next few years.

A challenge is a dearth of IT candidates, not the type of tech jobs in the region.

For the past three years, there have been about 7,700 entry-level IT job openings in the region and only 3,300 people with the appropriate “degree or credentials” graduating from Northeast Ohio’s educational institutions to fill those positions, according to the August 2020 RITE Talent Bulletin published Thursday, Aug. 27, for GCP Tech Week. And Black graduates with postsecondary credentials for computer and IT occupations lag white graduates by a ratio of 13-to-1.

“The shortage of IT talent in the region is well known,” said Courtney DeOreo, executive director of RITE and senior director of tech talent at GCP. “There are skills gaps across the board, but what we have seen more and more is an experience gap.”

DeOreo said employers continue to request “quite a bit of experience” when it comes to IT talent. In Northeast Ohio, about 75% to up to 90% of the job openings require three or more years of experience.

A pre-COVID-19, RITE/ConxusNEO IT Employer Survey in 2019 showed the region has significant talent deficits in areas of blockchain, the Internet of Things (IOT), development operations and mobile applications — all areas that companies in the region said they plan to invest in during the next five years.

Companies unable to find local workers with sufficient skills are forced to use more expensive consulting and contractor resources, or look for remote workers.

One bright spot, DeOreo said, is that some employers are showing flexibility with strict degree requirements.

Team NEO Research Insights found that degree requirements in job postings often are inflated when compared with the degrees obtained by those in the current IT workplace. The vast majority of employers who responded to the 2019 IT Employer Survey indicated that computer science and computer engineering degrees are only somewhat important (63%) or not important at all (21%).

“What we are seeing and hearing from the business community is a greater appreciation for the fact that more people are experiencing education in many different ways now,” said Team NEO’s CEO, Bill Koehler. “The business community is more open to different kinds of models, especially in this IT space, and can do a better job of identifying those people with those skills that meet their particular needs.”

Employers re-evaluating or relaxing the degree and experience requirement of workers opens up the opportunity for building out an apprentice strategy, with educational institutions or businesses that could help with the skills and experience gap, DeOreo said.

“Never before has it been so challenging to predict the future,” she said. “Whether a company is in the business of technology or uses technology to drive its business, it needs to attract the right IT talent.”

Read original article here.

Palmer, Kim. (2020, Aug 31)Northeast Ohio’s IT base continues to grow. Crain’s Cleveland Business.  Retrieved from