Area organizations look to increase IT talent pool

With what some are calling a shortage of information technology personnel in Mid-Missouri, several organizations have partnered with the goal of growing the local talent pool.

Last summer, Gov. Jay Nixon awarded a $1 million grant to create the Central Missouri Innovation Campus. The grant was awarded to the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce through a partnership with Lincoln University and Linn State Technical College, as well as Helias Catholic and Jefferson City high schools.

When the grant was awarded, Nixon said the program would help direct students toward courses and programs specifically designed to prepare them for careers in information technology, as well as reducing the amount of time it takes to earn a degree.

Kathy Pabst, director of continuing education and extended studies at Lincoln University, is helping head up the Central Missouri Innovation Campus, along with members of Linn State Technical College and the chamber.

Pabst said information technology was identified as an area of need in Central Missouri and, through the grant, the innovation campus hopes to award $7,500 each to about 127 students to help cover costs of training and computer information systems courses.

“The innovation campus grant is a way to align education with industry,” Pabst said. “If we want a qualified workforce in central Missouri, this grant is going to help us do that.”

Pabst said the ultimate goal of the Central Missouri Innovation Campus is to have more IT professionals with bachelor’s degrees. The campus will focus on mainframe programmers and mobile applications developers, Pabst said.

Jefferson City officials have said an IT shortage has made it difficult to staff needed positions. According to a report titled “America’s Tech Talent Crunch” from Dice, a career site for technology and engineering professionals, there are “more tech job openings on any given day than there are workplaceready computer information and computer science college grads ready to fill those jobs.”

Missy Bonnot, director of economic development with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, said IT seemed like the most logical field to focus on when the chamber applied for the state grant. Bonnot said the chamber has been hearing for years that it’s very difficult to find IT workers.

“It really is an epidemic,” Bonnot said. “We’re at this crisis level.”

Keith Huhn, director of IT at Wipro in Jefferson City, said it’s been difficult to find qualified candidates for open positions recently. He said, when hiring, he looks for candidates with technical requirements and strong communications skills, as well as a four-year degree in computer science or computer information systems and two years of experience.

“Jeff City’s a small place with a lot of competition,” Huhn said. “There’s probably more IT positions than resources.”

Huhn said one key of the innovation campus is to allow young people to understand the options they have at an early age and that the IT positions are available.

Pabst said the campus seeks to shorten the amount of time it takes to earn a fouryear degree by trying to get students interested in the field at a younger age. As part of the partnerships with area high schools, Pabst said they are looking at incorporating dual credit courses starting in a student’s junior year. The campus also will focus on students who meet the criteria of being from a lowto moderate-income family, she said.

“We are going to be reaching students who need the help and that’s going to be a wonderful service to provide in Jefferson City,” Pabst said.

The campus also will require students to complete internships with some of the businesses and entities that have partnered with the campus, Pabst said.

There is no timeline on the grant, she said, and they hope to have their first students selected by this fall.

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