How Minnesota's lack of technology education contributes to tech job gap

Sharon Kennedy Vickers and Joel Crandall
Sharon Kennedy Vickers, CEO of Software For Good, and Joel Crandall, vice president of talent for the Minnesota Technology Association, with MPR News host Angela Davis in studio.
Danelle Cloutier | MPR News

Tech giants like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Netflix and Meta have laid off a total of more than 100,000 employees in 2023.

Yet, Minnesota alone had 8,460 tech job postings in February but not enough skilled workers to fill them, according to reports from the Minnesota Technology Association.

Also, for the third year in a row, Minnesota is dead last in the country when it comes to teaching K-12 students computer science in public schools.

MPR News host Angela Davis spoke with Sharon Kennedy Vickers, CEO of Software For Good, and Joel Crandall, vice president of talent for the Minnesota Technology Association, about why giant companies are laying off so many workers, and what’s being done to address the gap between open tech jobs and a lack of skilled workers in our state.

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Here are some key moments of the conversation.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.   

Minnesota tech industry hasn’t seen the same scale of layoffs

“Definitely, some folks have lost positions in technology. That will always be the case. But as you mentioned, 8,400 new jobs were posted in February — that's the lowest number that we've seen in the last three years, so overall maybe a little bit of a slowing in terms of the total number of technologists being hired, but generally really still positive news in terms of tech employment.”

— Crandall

Minnesota tech companies softening on needing a bachelor’s degree

“It's exciting to see some shifts that are happening. Last year in Minnesota, 90 percent of technology roles that were posted still required, at least on paper, a four-year degree, which is really out of step with other parts of the country. That's not the case in California, that's not the case on the East Coast. We're starting to see employers take a different perspective on whether a two-year degree or a four-year degree is required and with that has come to some growth in apprenticeships, boot camps and other kinds of training mechanisms to be able to get folks ready. But it really needs to be a shared partnership. Businesses need to be willing to take on some of that training burden.”

— Crandall

Apprentice programs help people break into tech industry

“In Software for Good, we build software; we are a team of engineers, designers and digital strategists. We started our apprentice program, because we were finding that individuals coming out of college, or some of the non-traditional boot camps and training programs, did not have the experience that they needed in order to take on the roles as junior software developers.

Our apprentices get to work on client projects, on a team with other apprentices and UX designers. They are assigned a senior software engineer as a mentor who provides coaching and helps them gain skills to take on a role as a junior engineer.

It gives them the opportunity to really understand what software engineering actually is, what is the day to day, what are the tools you’re using to program and how to problem solve.

— Vickers

You can educate yourself in cybersecurity for free

“There’s lots of really good free training out there. Plenty on YouTube, plenty of podcasts. We have one at IT Audit Labs. There are lots of ways to get into the industry. I think it's doing a little bit of home lab work on your own: getting an old computer, installing some software on it, following along online with some lab modules … and then maybe finding your way into an organization through an internship. We've had really great success in bringing people along through an internship, either coming out of college or another form of education, like Summit Academy, a local company that takes students that couldn't afford the traditional secondary education routes. The academy has a program where they bring people through and introduce them to cybersecurity or IT support and we found individuals coming out of that training curriculum have been excellent.”

— Eric Brown from IT Audit Labs

Early exposure helps people pursue tech careers

“I think Minnesota has been a leader in the technology space and I think we need to reclaim that by starting with understanding and building a program at early stages for individuals, and we need our legislative members behind us in supporting that as well.

“I wasn't necessarily drawn to technology as a young girl or even as I grew up in the rural south, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so as you can imagine there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for tech during that time and in that place. My first computer science class was when I was a sophomore in high school, and I didn't naturally gravitate towards that. I fell in love with tech after graduating with a degree in political science and African American studies. I was a single mom and I was looking for a career that would allow me to give my daughter the life that she deserved. And so at that time, personal computing was taking off and web development was taking off, so I went back to school and got a degree in computer science. And it was there that I fell in love with it, not so much with the coding and the lines of code, but what was really exciting for me was the ability to solve problems.

— Kennedy Vickers

Minnesota offers to pay half of some interns’ wages

“The legislature has funded a program called SciTech, which allows Minnesota-based students to get internship experiences at Minnesota-based companies with 250 or fewer employees. MNTech has a connection board and takes applications. Companies are able to create matches through that website. The state helps to pay 50 percent of the wages, which is an incentive for companies to use that program as well.”

— Crandall

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