Panel Talks Attracting Local Tech Talent at 2018 LWC Labor Summit

The 2018 Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) Labor Summit in New Orleans March 21-23 is meant to bring a variety of sectors in Louisiana together to discuss issues ranging from workers’ compensation to safety to recruitment. On Wednesday, a panel of experts from tech companies with a Louisiana footprint discussed the “talent pipeline” and how the technology workforce in Louisiana can grow. Two aspects of this growth that the panel addressed repeatedly were recruitment challenges and non-traditional candidates for tech jobs.

Community is everything

Lafayette-based Will LaBar, Vice President of Consulting Services with CGI, said that when it comes to recruitment, even if Louisiana doesn’t have as many “technically qualified” individuals to fill open positions, “in general when we recruit in Louisiana, when we look at how long it takes to fill a position, Louisiana is equal to, if not better, than some of our other centers.” LaBar added that, “finding talent ready to enter the workforce is difficult everywhere, and we have a unique partnership with organizations in the community” inside and outside of universities.

Mohit “Mo” Vij, President and CEO of Baton Rouge-based General Informatics, spoke glowingly of Louisiana’s high native born population and said that “people who were born and grew up here want to work and live here.” He added with a chuckle that in interviews with male candidates he asks if the candidate’s wife is from Louisiana, “if their wife is from here, they’ll stay,” he said.

Other panelists agreed with LaBar and Vij’s optimistic assessment of recruitment, but highlighted the need for “a tech community” in and of itself in order for Louisiana to become the Silicon Valley of the South. In other words, candidates for jobs in Louisiana need to have some security that they will have another company or other jobs to go to when they are ready to leave a position in local tech – that requires more companies and home grown start-ups across the state.

Further, according to LaBar, one of the things he is looking for is “re-tooling the workforce” so that workers displaced by automation can have opportunities in the tech sector.

Apprenticeship and nontraditional hires

Part of this re-tooling is an effort to transition workers in areas like administrative assistance and heavy industry toward tech through apprenticeship and certification programs – as opposed to four year degrees in Computer Science.

Panelist Ron Lewis, Director of Innovation, Engineering & Integration at CenturyLink in Monroe, spoke about his experience as an adjunct professor at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. “One of the things that amazes me is Louisiana students’ creativity [compared to my experience in Alabama] but we need to do a better job of cultivating that, even as young as kindergarten.” Lewis noted that Louisiana is ahead of the curve in terms of getting computers into classrooms – right now it’s one machine to three students as opposed to one to five nationally.

For older students and those looking to leave non-tech jobs, Vij is a fan of apprenticeship programs, which his company offers for high school and college students, while Kevin Dawson, VP of Software Architecture and CIO of GE Digital NOLA, is a fan of flexible scheduling and nontraditional hires. Dawson gave the example of a truck driver he hired two years ago who is now one of his best onsite technical developers. “When we think about diversity and how it benefits a corporate culture, it’s not just diversity of race and gender, it’s diversity of thought,” he said. Dawson emphasized that tech workers that come from different educational and work backgrounds approach problems differently and help avoid the echo chamber effect.

Wish list for hires

Asked about the types of candidates that are most in demand at the their companies: full stack developers are high on the list, as are cybersecurity experts and people interested in artificial intelligence.

Curious about technology issues and the workforce? Louisiana Comp Blog is hosting Spotlight on Solutions: a tech symposium for workers; comp professionals June 15th at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans. More information and registration is available here.


Image Credit: Staffing Talk


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