Reports: Demand for IT Workforce Leads in NE Ohio

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A pair of reports highlights the importance of information technology jobs in northeastern Ohio and of developing future 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 in the region — on the two reports.

Team NEO’s quarterly economic review looks at how IT-dependent sectors fared over the past two decades, including through both the 2001 recession and the Great Recession when manufacturing jobs were lost in the region.

“A lot of the narrative in our region has been this decline in manufacturing jobs since 2001,” Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research for Team NEO, said. “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 really seen growth over that period of time.”

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

From 2016 to last year, 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.

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

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

Duritsky credited IT talent with playing a big role in the economic diversification of the northeastern Ohio region 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 said. 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).

Team NEO is concerned about these jobs for a couple reasons, Duritsky said. One is they are in significant demand. The other is the wages they pay.

The various computer and math occupations can pay more than twice the average median northeastern Ohio hourly wage of $22.84, according to the report. Computer information and research scientists make $47.11 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 median 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 offer continued growth going forward,” Duritsky said.

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

According to the Rite report, companies in the region had 441 IT projects under way in fields including cyber security, 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,” said 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.”

According to the survey, many in the IT workforce lack necessary skills in areas such as mobile applications, in which 65% lack skills, business intelligence (59%) and cyber security (58%). 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 less than 85% of current employees who now hold those positions having one. A similar percentage of postings for information security analysts in 2019 included a bachelor’s degree requirement, while just over 70% hold one.

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

“We see this as an opportunity to really 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 said.

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 said. 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 continued.

“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 really create those family-sustaining opportunities in a career path that does have upward mobility opportunities,” DeOreo said.

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

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

Though the initiative is focused on benefiting Cuyahoga County residents because of its funding, as Rite builds capacity to support that population it is building capacity for such projects in other locales, she said.

As part of the sector partnership initiative, Rite is tracking what is happening at Youngstown State University with the IT Workforce Accelerator, a partnership with computer giant 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 in IT,” she said.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.