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Mar 19, 201910:53 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Building stronger tech workforce is issue nationally and Wisconsin

(page 1 of 2)

Young people are natives when it comes to using technology, from smartphones to tablets and from social media to video games, but they can be aliens when it comes to working in tech jobs.

Despite the coast-to-coast glut of well-paid jobs in tech professions such as coding, cybersecurity, and network management, the pipeline of potential workers is much smaller than what observers would prefer.

With experts predicting there will soon be eight information technology jobs for every qualified applicant, how does the process of training people — the workforce “supply” — keep pace with the demands of industry in virtually every sector?

Four-year colleges and tech colleges in Wisconsin and elsewhere are making strides, but the need for qualified workers now is capturing the attention of two other groups: for-profit colleges that are well positioned to produce qualified students, and federal and state policymakers.

Steve Gunderson, who represented Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District for 16 years, is president of the Washington-based Career Education Colleges and Universities, an association that represents some of the nation’s 2,700 private, for-profit schools. Some of these accredited schools are focused on careers in medical professions, cosmetology, culinary arts, and automotive skills, but a growing number are specializing in tech professions.

“We’re not competing with schools such as the UW–Madison and its computer sciences department; we’re more about a different kind of student who wants to earn credentials in a given amount of time, to find a job, or to enhance the jobs they’re already doing,” Gunderson said.

A growing area is cybersecurity, where needs are exploding in sectors ranging from retail to financial to health care.

One of the leading producers of cybersecurity talent is the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona, which has been producing graduates in the field since 1998 — before cybersecurity was a commonly used term. It was called “network defense” at the time.

“All we do is tech,” said UAT President Jason Pistillo, a self-described “tech geek” whose school has produced about 5,000 graduates in 20 programs over time through an intense and unique curriculum. Students have hailed from all 50 states and are hired almost as soon as they’re done.

“On any given day, there are 10 jobs for every one of our students,” he said. The demand is especially high in cybersecurity, where 30 percent of UAT graduates have classified credentials and another 20 percent work in jobs where there are nondisclosure agreements in place.

“You can’t swing a stick without hitting one of our (cybersecurity) graduates,” Pistillo said.

He laments the lack of college students studying technology and has worked in Arizona and beyond to build a younger base of students, giving away about 1,200 computers over time and working with K–12 districts on curriculum, coding camps, and more.

(Continued)

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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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