Demand for IT Workforce Leads Job Growth

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A pair of new reports highlights the value of information technology jobs in northeastern Ohio and of developing IT talent. 

Team NEO, an economic development entity focused on the 18-county region, partnered with Rite – a component of the Greater Cleveland Partnership that focuses on IT workforce development – on the two reports.

“Navigating the New Normal,” Team NEO’s recent quarterly economic review, looks at how IT-dependent sectors fared over the past two decades, including through the 2001 recession and the Great Recession when manufacturing jobs were lost.

“A lot of the narrative in our region has been this decline in manufacturing jobs since 2001,” says Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research for Team NEO. “While there is a lot of truth in that, what elements of that have masked is the fact that other sectors of the economy, sectors driven in significant part by IT talent, have seen growth over that period of time.”

From 2001 to 2019, manufacturing employment declined more than 30%, according to the Team NEO report.  During the same period, headquarters employment grew 90%, health care 27% and professional, scientific and technical services employment by 5%.

From 2016 to 2019, the IT workforce in the 18-county region increased to nearly 47,000 from 39,500, an 18% jump, and overall demand for each of the four years averaged more than 14,000 positions, the report found.

Of those 47,000 tech-related jobs, 2,431 show up directly in the Youngstown metropolitan statistical area. That number, Team NEO officials acknowledge, likely underestimates “the true impact of tech talent in the market” given the MSA’s proximity to Pittsburgh and its large tech footprint.

Team NEO’s report showed that demand for computer and IT workers was second only to health diagnosing and treating practitioners in 2019.

Duritsky credits  IT talent with playing a big role in the economic diversification of northeastern Ohio over the past two decades.

“It just hasn’t taken place in what you would think about as traditional IT sectors like software and other places. It’s really embedded in a lot of things we do well,” he says.

Last year, professional, scientific and technical services represented nearly 14,000 of the region’s computer and math occupations, the highest concentration of those jobs. That was followed by headquarters (nearly 6,000 positions) and insurance (nearly 3,000 jobs).

The various computer and math occupations typically pay more than twice the average northeastern Ohio hourly wage of $22.84, according to the report. Computer information and research scientists make $47.68 per hour and actuaries slightly less, $47.11. Computer support specialists, at the low end of the pay spectrum, still make more than the hourly average for the region, about $25 per hour.

“So not only are they in demand but they pay family-sustaining wages, offer good prospects for the future and continued growth going forward,” Duritsky says.

Rite’s talent bulletin, based on a survey of companies taken last year combined with other data, looked at where employers are investing IT dollars, what skills are most desired and difficult to find, and shifting requirements in the recruitment process.

According to the Rite report, companies in the region had 441 IT projects under way in fields that include cybersecurity, data warehousing, mobile applications and financial controls. Another 117 were planned for the next five years.

“We don’t know if these have been stalled or put on hold,” says Courtney DeOreo, Rite executive director. “It does give us the breadth of the investments in terms of what skills might be implicated and ought to be on the radar of our educational workforce training providers as they’re working to prepare candidates for these roles.”

Many in the IT workforce lack necessary skills in areas such as mobile applications, in which 65% lack skills, business intelligence (59%) and cybersecurity (58%), the survey found. In Blockchain, 100% of the workforce lacked the necessary skills, and 67% lacked them for DevOps development.

The report also reflects differences in degree requirements versus those who now hold those positions. For example, last year more than 90% of job postings for software developers required a bachelor’s degree, compared with fewer than 85% of current employees who hold those positions having a four-year college degree. A similar percentage of postings for information security analysts in 2019 included a bachelor’s degree requirement, while just over 70% hold one.

Fewer than half of IT professionals employed as web developers or computer systems analysts now have a bachelor’s degree, while about 90% of postings called for one.

“We see this as an opportunity to delve into a discussion with employers around how essential are these requirements if less than half have the kind of requirement you’re asking for in a job post,” DeOreo says.

Experience also is important. Of the four top in-demand IT roles, 76% to 90% of openings required three or more years of experience.

While there is a “cross-cutting need for tech talent” regardless of employment sector, the entry-level gap remains large, DeOreo says. That provides opportunity on many levels, not the least of which is to address “some of the pervasive inequities, particularly with some of the underrepresented populations in the IT workforce,” she says.

“If we can work to try to attract more individuals with the right skills into these roles, we could not only meet the needs of employers who are looking for an increasingly skilled and diverse workforce, but create those family-sustaining opportunities in a career path that does have upward mobility opportunities,” DeOreo says.

The data will enable Rite to continue an ongoing conversation with employers, and double down on an IT-sector partnership initiative.

“We’re going to wrestle down on what I refer to as not only the entry-level gap but also the experience gap,” DeOreo says. That means developing strategies to get more people into the pipeline for entry-level roles and working with employers around the degree and experience requirements in a way that puts a greater emphasis on skills.

Although the initiative is focused, because of its funding, on benefiting Cuyahoga County residents, Rite is building capacity for such projects in other locales, DeOreo says.

Rite is tracking what is happening at Youngstown State University with the IT Workforce Accelerator, a partnership with IBM to develop IT talent. “We see apprenticeships as a very important strategy and are definitely interested in how that initiative gains traction and starts to address some of those shortages,” she says.