Tech Talent Forum Offers Insights on Local Tech Talent Availability

June 21, 2018 – Last month, the Talent Development task force for the Nevada County Tech Connection held its Tech Talent Forum in the conference center of Grass Valley, A Belden Brand. Local tech business leaders and employees, workforce development organizations, and educators at all levels attended the forum. The goal was to discuss ways to create a sustainable pipeline of local skilled tech talent by building enhanced community partnerships.

Bob Hudelson, AJA Video Systems’ Director of Engineering, and Stephanie Ortiz,Executive Dean for Sierra College’s Nevada County campus, opened the discussion, highlighting our community’s need to foster the development and recruitment of professionals with the skills required by tech businesses, spanning the fields of engineering (software, hardware, electrical, civil), advanced manufacturing, marketing and business, applied arts and design, drafting and engineering support, mechatronics, Geographic Information Systems, and beyond.

The Forum laid the foundation for future collaboration between our local educators, tech businesses, and workforce development organizations via insights from two panels. One panel consisted of 11 younger native Nevada County technology professionals who returned here to pursue careers in our tech industry; the second was comprised of 11 local tech business leaders.

Both panels emphasized the need to inform local middle and high school students about local tech organizations and career opportunities “before they leave Nevada County,” and the benefits of offering internships to students as key to ultimately encouraging some to return to our county to work in tech. By far the most successful recruiting strategy implemented by local tech companies has been targeting college students with 12 week paid summer internships.

Most tech professional panelists engaged in summer internships at local tech organizations after college, prior to signing on as regular employees, and stated that they knew to seek professional positions in Nevada County only because they had family ties here and had learned about local career options through their internships. One much smaller local cohort it would be interesting to hear from is the young tech professionals who’ve moved here to pursue work opportunities without the influence of family and being raised here.

Jesse Locks, Matt Gottschalk, and Benji Brown, who all operate as successful techentrepreneurs, emphasized the need to encourage entrepreneurship locally. Later Forum discussion included suggestions on creating community incentives and support for those creating businesses–like tax incentives, more low-rent officespace, small business grants, and mentorship. The Truckee Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to attract entrepreneurs were cited as a laudable example,out of which many programs offered by Sierra Commons, a local coworking and business mentorship space, were developed.

The tech business leader panel members–including leaders from AJA, Autometrix,Clear Capital, Clientworks, Grass Valley, Gyro-Stabilized Systems, Nevada City Engineering, N.I.D., Red8 Interactive, SP Marketplace, and Telestream–described the challenges they face finding and recruiting skilled employees. Business panelists also distinguished between tech talent that can be developed locally,such as in the areas of Computer Information Systems and Mechatronics (as well as in Advanced Manufacturing, Applied Art and Design, and Drafting and Engineering Support, all via Sierra College in Nevada County and/or Rocklin), and the skills that require education offered outside of our county, such as higher-level engineering.

One of the keys to our community’s long-term economic viability, particularly amidst the rapidly-shifting cannabis landscape, is positioning Nevada County to would-be tech entrepreneurs and workers. Economist David Roland-Holst discussed this in great depth during the recent Economic Development Summit hosted by the Nevada County ERC, and it was revisited here. Panelists and participants discussed the oft-appreciated benefits of Nevada County’s quality of life and work-life balance, including ample and accessible natural beauty, a lively arts community, short commutes, a strong sense of community, and a health-conscious outlook–along with the well-known challenges of unreliable broadband coverage and limited housing. Panelist Jesse Locks highlighted how, after a young adulthood spent entirely in larger cities, she appreciates the opportunity she has here to activate change, with more direct access to local institutions and leaders like the City Councils and Sierra College.

The Forum concluded with a conversation amongst all attendees on future areas of potential community collaboration. The imperative for this collaboration between local government, the tech industry, property owners, and educational leaders to make progress on the major issues facing local tech talent recruitment and retention was highlighted, with educators providing key input on actions to benefit our students and, together with tech business professionals, codifying a range of beneficial activities including:

• Job shadowing
• After-school programming led by tech professionals
• Enhanced high school senior project engagement
• Internships
• Career fairs
• Hands-on workshops
• Speaker series
• Laboratory classes with students working on business projects
• Donations

The next Talent Development meeting, targeted for Sept/Oct of 2018, will be a working session where educators and tech businesses will prioritize top areas of focus and set up working groups. In the meantime, educators from our local middle and high schools are finalizing lists of their current STEAM programs for reference in that gathering.

Attendees included educators from elementary, middle, and high schools (Bear River, Bitney Prep, Ghidotti, NUHS, and SAEL), along with Sierra College, the Business and Career Network, Connecting Point workforce development agencies, and tech and general organizations.

The Talent Development Task Force was launched as an initiative of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council in 2015 and has incubated the Connected Communities Academy as well as the Nevada County Tech Connection, amongst other projects

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