New report maps out Greater Philadelphia’s tech workforce, and a path forward

May 3, 2017

Michelle Caffrey, Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal


The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia unveiled its in-depth report on the state of the region’s tech workforce Tuesday morning, when league members and stakeholders in the local tech scene gathered at the Cira Center to hear its key findings


The report — born out of what Economy League Acting Director Josh Sevin said has been a lack of consistent, competitive business intelligence on the topic — won’t surprise those in the region’s tech industry, but they do shed light on key challenges and what action needs to be taken to address them.


Growth of the region’s tech workforce growth is significant, especially in relation to other industries, according to the Economy League's findings. While Greater Philadelphia saw overall jobs grow by just 7 percent between 2011 and 2016, putting it at the bottom of the pack among the country’s largest metro areas, tech jobs made up a large portion of the jobs that were created. According to the Economy League’s report, 25 percent of all net new jobs created between 2002 and 2015 in the region were in tech, a percentage that puts the region second only to the Bay Area.


“I think that’s a two-sided story,” Sevin said. The addition of 25,000 tech jobs since 2002 and the “relatively slow-growth” of the employment base overall makes the case for focusing in on the tech industry.

“It’s all the more reason why you have to hitch a ride on something like tech, where there is really some dynamism and growth,” he said.


And to do so, the region needs to address its shortcomings.


The divide between demand and supply in the region’s current tech workforce — roughly 102,000 people work in IT roles in Greater Philadelphia, according to the report — is the main barrier, the Economy League said.

Employers are having a hard time filling certain key positions, particularly those related to back-end development, quality assurance and data science, while jobs that are becoming easier to automate while easy-to-use online tools, like web development, are on the decline. It’s even harder for companies to find employees with the full-stack of soft skills, like being able to problem solve, learn quickly and understand business operations. The underrepresentation of people of color and women in tech, an issue the industry faces as a whole, is also a road block.


At the same time, Philadelphia and its surrounding areas are home to both a diverse population and deep poverty. In the city, 25 percent of residents live in poverty, and are desperately in need of the economic lift tech training and positions provide, with annual average salaries hovering around $89,000.


Zeroing in on the disconnects between those two realities and outlining tangible steps to maximize tech job growth is the report’s driving focus, Sevin said.


“It’s a huge opportunity for businesses to maintain their growth, but it’s really a major focus for people interested in expanding career pathways out of poverty,” he said.


Addressing the perception that tech jobs only involve coding, are limited to the stereotypical tech guy and only exist at scrappy startups is large part of the work that needs to be done, the report states.


Tim Wenhold knows those myths well.


As the CIO of Chester-based Power Home Remodeling, Wenhold knows his company wouldn’t be seen as the typical tech employer, yet his department, which has built and develops the company’s own internal CRM and office management SaaS, has grown from two people in 2008 to 53 today, and Wenfold expects to continue to grow his staff 75 percent year over year.


“Our tech force is constantly growing … and it’s not just developers, it’s everything, the support work, designers, testers, they keep our applications running in place with the rest of the company,” he said.


He's also built up a diverse workforce through conscious outreach efforts and retained them through a laser-focus on employee happiness and workplace culture.


"We've tapped into the veterans community, that helps us some [with hiring]. We're also extremely diverse in our group to begin with," he said, adding that even with his company being named one of the top 10 employers in the U.S. by ratings site Glassdoor, it's still difficult to find female developers.


To tackle inequity and imbalance in the tech workforce, the report calls for an increase in cooperation between stakeholders including large employers, academic institutions, youth programs and public entities, yet also ties specific key performance indicators, or KPIs, to each of the four distinct strategies in its “action framework”:


1) Increase incumbent worker training and employer-led solutions


  • Using work-based training programs and partnerships to expand current employees’ skill base not only helps fill the often hard-to-hire-for highly skilled positions, it creates more opportunities for incoming workers at the entry to mid-level. More apprenticeship programs, paid internships and co-ops can help continue the growth. HR staffers should also be trained to value work experience and consider applicants without a bachelor’s degree.

  • KPIs: Number of workers receiving upskilling investments, number of firms making incumbent workforce investments, number of students participating in work-based learning programs, conversion rate of interns into full-time employees, membership growth in industry partnerships

2) Align and scale educational and tech training program


  • Higher education needs to cooperate more with employers to make sure what they’re teaching matches up with current demand in the workforce, the report argues. Programs geared toward non-traditional students like bootcamps need to receive more funding so they can expand and scale to have a greater impact. Looking long-term, a distinct shift toward a focus on tech and soft skills in early and secondary education can bolster the talent pipeline.

  • KPIs: Number of students graduating with a credential in computer science or an IT field, number of students placed by bootcamps, number of schools including tech curriculum

3) Raise awareness of potential tech careers among underrepresented populations


  • The talent pool is missing out on the large amount of people who have traditionally been left out of the tech workforce conversation and aren’t aware of the opportunities a career in tech can offer, the report states. One way to tackle that knowledge gap is an outreach campaign geared toward parents, students and workers looking to change careers, potentially led by a non-profit organization and corporate partners.

  • KPIs: Number of women and people of color in the tech workforce, number of women and people of color pursuing tech education and training, number of dislocated workers pursuing tech training, number of students majoring in IT at local colleges.

4) Improve access to data on tech talent in the region


  • You can't fix what you don’t understand. The report states that in order to meet employers' needs and craft the best strategy for all stakeholders, data that maps out where opportunities are located needs to be widely accesible. The only way organizations like the Economy League can continue tracking the region’s progress is an increase in data surrounding the IT workforce pipeline, training programs, job openings and skills gaps. An organization could take the lead on that effort by working with corporate or philanthropic partners to fund the collection and maintenance of information on training programs, tech career pathways and educational options. There’s also a need for more frequent studies to provide data on job openings, employers’ training efforts and views on hiring that keep up with the industry’s rapid pace.

  • KPIs: Web traffic on career pathways and training program sites, number of employers responding to regional survey about tech talent needs.


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