What Does It Mean to “Foster” IT Talent in Greater Cincinnati? Lessons learned from Ankur Gopal, CEO, Interapt

 

In a recent “Crack the Code” roundtable discussion hosted by The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, business leaders in technology, recruiting, talent attraction and skills development met to discuss possible solutions to filling the many IT jobs available throughout the Greater Cincinnati region. What is key among the many challenges facing the region are the battles to both attract and keep talent here rather than losing those valuable resources to the coasts and other locales.

Despite the renaissance that has elevated Cincinnati’s image in the minds of business relocation experts, investors and job seekers, the region still struggle to compete for talent with coastal cities like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Boston, and New York, as well as larger Midwestern or Mid-Atlantic cities like Chicago and Atlanta. And for those who are graduating from our universities with degrees in more high-demand professions, such as data science, engineering, and pharmacy, we have to do better at matching the right talent to the right jobs and fostering that talent, so that we can keep it and nurture it.

 

So, what does it truly mean to “foster talent,” and is it enough to foster talent? It’s actually bigger than just fostering existing talent, or even attracting college students and young professionals to our region. Rather than spending our energy on recruiting talent from elsewhere to fill the many jobs available here, we should focus on training those who already want to be here. An example of a local partnership that is doing this well is The University of Cincinnati and The Kroger Co. These two Cincinnati staples have co-created a center of technology called the 1819 Innovation Hub, slated to open for students in the fall of 2019. The space houses a 12,000-square-foot makerspace and micro-factory, all geared toward inspiring students with the technical potential to refine their skills. Kroger’s impetus for funding this program with UC was to create a talent pipeline that supports their business and positions the Cincinnati region as a place where digital and technology students and professionals want to be.

It wasn’t until the “Crack the Code” roundtable’s keynote speaker began to tell his story that the notion of “fostering talent” began to make sense. Ankur Gopal, a serial entrepreneur, former Accenture consultant, son of immigrants, and first-generation Kentucky native, started Interapt, a business solutions and product development company in 2006. As Gopal shared with those of us around the table, soon after launching his company, he encountered one of the very obstacles the roundtable and its participants were trying to solve. The talent he needed to run and grow his organization were being swayed to the coasts, with only a few making time to give Interapt and Louisville a brief look. He wasn’t ready to give up, though, and was emboldened further by an innate desire to give back to the State of Kentucky and its economy, as Kentucky had supported him in starting and growing Interapt. Serendipitously, Kentucky’s Governor and fellow legislators contacted Gopal at that same time to ask him to help provide job training and skills opportunities to unemployed Kentucky residents, many of whom were impacted directly or indirectly by Kentucky’s suffering coal economy. He accepted the challenge and started a software training program that received 800 applications for its first class. That first class trained 50 students over six months. Of those initial 50 students, 35 graduated with the skills that enabled all of them to find jobs in technology. In fact, some of those initial 35 are now teaching others. Interapt soon created a new business line called Interapt Skills, designed to solve the challenges associated with its internet-focused line of business. Gopal and Interapt topped off their accomplishments by extending their program to help transitioning military members. Today, Gopal consults with local municipalities and states across the country on how they can do for their own communities what Interapt did for Kentucky.

Skills training and job placement are the cornerstones of MAX Technical Training’s existence. MAX has been trusted by companies of all sizes to retool and set their workforce up for success for 20 years. MAX has also helped countless individuals begin a new chapter in their career personal development. Other organizations, including area universities and non-profit programs, also commit hours, dollars, effort and passion for training—each in it’s own unique way—IT talent in our region. But still we struggle to keep many of our graduating technology students, and IT jobs continue to go unfilled. What more can we do to truly foster and grow our region’s skills base? Here are some thoughts…

 

  • Invest within. Start a program internally to reach out to see if there is interest. Build a website, Intro to the cloud, How to fix your computer, etc. If there are mentors or others who want to help, teach within your organization.
  • Make a decision to test the waters; sponsor an internal employee who is interested in moving into IT. Give them the time away from the office to take the necessary training or bootcamp; make sure they have the aptitude and desire/motivation. Follow what many have already done (Western and Southern, Great American Insurance, Kroger and Zillow). If you cannot afford to have them away from the office, look for online or evening and weekend education programs. Encourage them to attend and support them by giving them the space to work or leave the office early.
  • There are university evening classes, boot camps, free online training and organizations like Girl DevelopIT, PerScholas and Users Group that will help folks enter this field.
  • Sponsor an annual program that would promote from within. Have an IT career day, and open it up to all employees to see what is happening in the IT world.
  • Not every organization has the staffing needs of Interapt or the resources to build their own program. Instead, look for training partners that have existing classes or bootcamps, and see if they can design a custom program for your organization.
  • Another unique approach is an apprenticeship in IT. Soon, the Chamber, along with local CIOs, will be launching Apprenti, a program that provides underrepresented groups, such as women, minorities and veterans, access to training, certification and job placement within the tech industry.

There isn’t a week that goes by that we do not hear from a leader in IT about the real issues they are having with IT talent.

That said, fostering and growing tech talent is important for any business, but more importantly, the surrounding regions. And while it’s natural to explore and attract new talent from big cities and those known for being IT-hotbeds, it’s also critical to look in your own backyard.

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