Even with the enormous job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many Middle Tennessee tech companies are still struggling to find qualified workers.
The Nashville area lost nearly 150,000 jobs between March and June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, a survey in April from the Greater Nashville Tech Council, found that 86% of respondents had not laid off workers and more than 30% were still hiring.
However, the people in the larger labor pool don’t always match up well with the open positions. Kyle Allen, a managing partner at the Brentwood staffing company Vaco, said many of the people who are currently unemployed come from the restaurant or hospitality industries and don’t have a technology background.
“Talent, for us, is still a shortage,” he said. “There’s a lot of people unemployed, but it's not necessarily technology, accounting and finance, like the technical white collar roles.”
Tech Council CEO Brian Moyer said his organization has seen a similar trend. Some tech council companies have dozens or even hundreds of open positions.
“I think the opportunity that exists is … to try and find some of these unemployed workers and skill them up, train them up, so they can move into the tech workforce because our member companies are still hiring,” he said.
The Tech Council was already planning to expand a program that trains workers with no tech experience. The AprentiTN program gives students three months of classroom training, and another year of on-the-job experience at local tech companies. The apprenticeship program started about two years ago, and graduated one class before the virus outbreak led to widespread shutdowns in Tennessee.
Late last year, the Tech Council got a $1 million state grant to expand the program into Robertson, Sumner and Wilson Counties. The second cohort was supposed to start classes at Volunteer State Community College, a new partner in the program, in mid-March.
“The week that the city shut down was the week that training at Vol State was scheduled to start,” Moyer said. “We had to very quickly pivot to a virtual training platform.”
That class of 10 students finished their classroom training in July, and the next cohort is about to start. Several apprentices will soon start their on-the-job training with Community Health Systems in Franklin. The Tech Council aims to eventually train four cohorts of about 20 students each year.
Moyer said that the apprenticeship program is still small and won’t make a dent in the immediate worker shortage. However, the tech council is also trying to connect any newly unemployed tech workers with growing companies.
In April, the tech council also created a platform that allowed unemployed tech workers to share their resumes with growing companies that are part of the tech council. Moyer said the platform received hundreds of resumes.
“This isn't the tens of thousands of people that lost their jobs in hospitality, music, restaurant or entertainment industries,” he said. “But still we had several hundred tech workers that had lost their jobs.”
While many tech companies are booming, there are lots of tech workers at companies that have been hit hard by the pandemic. At Vaco, Allen said he has saw companies in the hard-hit health care industry, such as HCA, cut lots of tech jobs in the spring. Some growing technology companies saw that as an opportunity.
“On the technology side there's a lot of start up cash, PE funding, guys there are moving forward and knew they were going to burn cash for the next 18 months anyways,” Allen said. “They're trying to find some really good talent from HCA and Deloitte and other companies that shed a lot of really good talent. A lot of companies are taking that advantage on that side.”
Middle Tennessee tech companies were already used to a tight labor market. The technology trade group Computing Technology Industry Association estimated that U.S. unemployment rate for IT occupations was 2.4% in February. Overall, Moyer said he’s still bullish about tech’s future in the Nashville area.
"I think it's easy to see that technology is going to come out of this as a big winner," Moyer said. “Companies that had been hesitant to embrace this idea of remote work and embrace technology in some ways have been forced into that now”