Competition for tech talent entering new era in Wisconsin, well beyond

It’s no longer a case of Wisconsin companies needing to compete against their peers in Illinois, Minnesota, or other neighboring states for technology talent. It has become a national and international contest, thanks in large part to the rise of remote work.

That’s a major takeaway from a just-released study conducted for the Tech Councils of North America, an association of 60 state, provincial, and regional groups that charts trends in tech infrastructure, regulation, workforce, and more.

While the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in remote work across many business sectors, the number of remote job postings for tech jobs has climbed nearly three times as fast for jobs that fall into 15 software developer, system administrator, and network analyst codes set by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

That means a job posting in Appleton, Madison, or Milwaukee might just as easily by filled by someone elsewhere in the state, the Midwest, or the world as someone living within those labor markets. Conversely, jobs posted in San Francisco, New York City, or Texas — three enduringly hot job markets — might well be filled by someone in Wisconsin looking for higher pay without needing to move.

“There has been a drastic increase in remote job postings since the pandemic began,” said Jennifer Grundy Young, executive director of TECNA, which includes the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition.

“While employers generally appreciate that workers have more flexibility to work remotely, they also find encouraging collaboration to be very hard in remote settings. It’s often much harder for workers to congeal as a team,” Young said.

The study looked at a two-year period that roughly followed the peak of the pandemic and a year that ended in April 2022. Wisconsin showed an increase of 0.9% in tech jobs during the two-year pandemic period and 6.6% overall in the year ending in April.

The latter figure ranked Wisconsin 19 among the top 25 tech cluster states measured by the report, with Indiana (8.4%), Missouri (7.7%), Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan (between 7.2% and 7.5%) being Midwest states that ranked somewhat higher. Indiana tied with Maryland for the top growth spot.

Generally speaking, Sunbelt and western states were among the biggest gainers. States lagging the most in tech job recovery were Hawaii, North Dakota, New York, Vermont, and Alaska. However, the study also showed migration of jobs to and from other countries, with India being among the leaders.

The study offered a glimpse at tech job activity in three Wisconsin markets — Madison, Appleton, and Milwaukee. The change in “tech profiles” in those three cities, meaning postings in the 15 tech codes, were up 7.9%, 6.3%, and 5.8%, respectively. The study did not cover federal codes that apply to most engineering or life sciences professions.

Kathy Henrich, who is chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, saw the report as a double-edged sword for companies in Wisconsin that hire tech workers.

She agreed Wisconsin’s recent growth rate is encouraging but noted there will be more pressure on companies competing for workers who are looking to work remotely and believe they can do so for more money elsewhere.

“Remote work is also a challenge for employers. With a historically low tech unemployment rate of 1.3%, regional employers are competing nationally at higher wages as national demand for tech talent far exceeds supply of workers,” Henrich said.

Those higher wages continue to dominate in places such as California’s Silicon Valley, which may be leaking some workers and companies in a physical sense, but which still command interest from remote workers who value their quality of life elsewhere.

With tech workers becoming embedded in every major business sector, Wisconsin companies cannot ignore either the opportunities or the challenges of remote work. Adapting to both is a new order of the day.

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