Minnesota’s Tech Future

image that says April is Technology Workforce Month with CareerForce logo

Governor Walz has proclaimed April 2021 as Technology Workforce Month in Minnesota, providing a great opportunity to not only reflect on the important role technology plays in society today, but to also highlight a critical factor in the future success of Minnesota’s innovation economy – the people that comprise our tech workforce.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives and disrupt our economy in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a year ago, it has also underscored how reliant we have become on technology tools and platforms. Technology is enabling the remote workforce keeping our economy afloat, the distance learning keeping students on track, the telemedicine helping to maintain community health, and the communication tools keeping us all connected.

But as important technology is to our increasingly connected world, more so are the individuals that bring technology to life. From software engineers writing code, IT teams supporting technology implementations, cybersecurity analysts protecting access to data, to corporate leaders driving digital transformations, it’s all about people. Talent matters. And Minnesota’s need for people who can solve complex problems, drive innovation, and advance and support technology is more important than ever.

This is why the Minnesota Technology Association has prioritized helping Minnesota’s technology-driven companies inspire, hire, develop, and retain exceptional talent. This means developing new tech talent pipelines, advocating for workforce policy changes at the state and federal level, creating opportunities for companies to share best practices, and facilitating connections between job seekers and employers as we cultivate the skilled, inclusive technology workforce Minnesota companies need for continued business success. 

Many of Minnesota’s future workforce challenges are based on changing demographics and sub-optimal labor force participation. With baby boomers leaving the tech workforce in large numbers over the next decade, we need to think differently as to how we inspire our next generation to pursue STEM careers.  We need to think differently as to how we engage historically overlooked and untapped sources of talent, how we attract new talent to Minnesota, and how we develop and retain talent once onboard.

Minnesota faces a classic supply/demand imbalance. Occupational forecasts from DEED and other sources show continued high projected demand for tech occupations like software developers and information security analysts, but the lack of supply of skilled tech talent will significantly limit tech job growth in the future if we don’t address this issue now. In fact, CompTIA’s CyberStates 2021 report ranks Minnesota 47th in projected net tech employment growth over the 2020-2030 period, a projection based less on occupational demand and more related to labor supply constraints.

While there are a multitude of factors potentially limiting our future pool of tech talent, one of the more troubling relates to the relative lack of computer science education in our schools. There’s more work that needs to be done to make sure young Minnesotans are being exposed to tech. Right now Minnesota ranks among the lowest in terms of percentage of public schools offering computer science curriculum at just 19%, compared to 47% nationally. With so few students having access to computer science education in high school, it is no surprise that Minnesota also underproduces post-secondary IT talent compared to national averages.

Fortunately, college isn’t the only pathway to a tech career. While a bachelor’s degree remains the gold standard and preferred (and even required) by employers for many jobs in the tech field, one can easily begin a career in information technology by earning industry certifications and credentials, many of which can be earned in 8-20 weeks at various training academies and boot camps. Starting salaries upon completion generally exceed more than $50,000 annually with the median income of a software developer in the Twin Cities now at $105,470. For those  looking for employment in a fast-growing, high-paying field, there are plenty of opportunities for individuals wishing to re-skill themselves in this in-demand career pathway.

So as we celebrate Technology Workforce Month in Minnesota and acknowledge the valuable work performed by our state’s tech professionals, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the strength of Minnesota’s tech future is not assured. The bottom line is that we need more people in the tech talent pool. More people in family-sustaining tech careers. More people fueling Minnesota’s innovation economy. And more people to celebrate during future Technology Workforce Months.  

Learn how you can start your career in technology at CareerForceMN.com/TechMonth

Jeff Tollefson is the President & CEO of the Minnesota Technology Association, which launched the MnTech Job Board this month.