Tech employers compete for workers in Sioux Falls
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Karla Santi wants workers at her company to have a voice, to feel like they have value and an ability to make changes.
Workplace culture is key at Blend Interactive, said Santi, Blend’s CEO, because it’s an advantages she can offer her staff.
“I’m guessing most of my employees have a job offer on the table somewhere and they are choosing to stay here,” Santi said.
The labor pool for the Sioux Falls’ small but growing tech industry is falling short of demand and employers are competing for skilled workers, the Argus Leader reported.
Businesses in the metro-area employed about 1,650 information tech-trained workers in 2016. That number was projected to grow to 1,921 by 2026, according to the South Dakota Department of Labor.
It’s just too much demand for the supply of workers.
At one point in July, there were three openings for every job-seeking candidate in the Sioux Falls metro, according to data compiled by the department.
Coders, computer programmers, software developers and web developers - whatever their title or skills - make up a sliver of the Sioux Falls workforce, and at the same time are coveted by the city’s biggest employers, including major banks, telecommunication companies and the hospitals.
Smaller tech-focused shops hunt for talent from the same limited labor pool, looking for specific skills and a certain amount of experience to make sure they can keep up with the increasing complexities of product offerings.
The result is a competitive job market, especially for candidates with a little bit of experience.
The sweet spot for experience is about five years, said Clay Campbell, managing director for Seattle-based Unify Consulting.
Unify relied on word-of-mouth and networking to build up its Sioux Falls team of nearly 20 developers. The firm provides services to big tech firms in coastal cities.
Finding software developers with the right amount of skills and polish can mean hiring them away from their current job, Campbell said.
“I don’t think people are actively looking at that stage, I think they’re trying to figure out their career,” he said.
MarketBeat founder Matt Paulson has added staff to his company at an aggressive pace. Paulson’s Sioux Falls tech company provides online services and information about the stock market.
MarketBeat hired two developers in December as its subscriber count continued to climb.
When the data collection company Bright Planet wound down operations, Paulson brought on two of its developers in Ryan Quam and Will Bushee. The decision took a leap of faith but finding talent is hard, Paulson said.
“At the time I really only needed Ryan but I knew that if I ever needed to hire somebody like Will, now was the time,” Paulson said.
One of the pipelines for software developers in Sioux Falls is the Beacom College of Computer Science at Dakota State University. University officials have partnered with educators at Southeast Tech and local public schools on programs to increase the number of young people interested in a computer science career.
The college’s CybHER Institute has reached 14,000 girls in middle school and high school in the last six years. As a result, the number of women enrolled in the university’s computer science programs has skyrocketed by 400 percent, said Ashley Podhradsky, the college’s associate dean.
DSU has also rolled out a program to provide internships to high school students as a shorter-term solution for the workforce shortage, Podhradsky said. DSU programs and apprenticeships are already available at Harrisburg High School through the South Dakota Partnership for Student Success. The same opportunities will come to Sioux Falls with a new wing being planned for Jefferson High School, Podhradsky said.
“It’s like saying we need more doctors, well OK, we can’t get them just by wishing,” she said.
Santi has taken another approach to hiring at Blend: what she calls a “long-play.” Blend will invest years in training up its employees, bringing on interns early in their education. Blend has also worked closely with Southeast and DSU to make sure students are ready for the demands of the current marketplace.
“We need to be advocating at the college level,” Santi said.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com