Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Millennial Skills Gap

Why don't the best and brightest work here?

This story is based on conversations around a panel discussion at the Utah State of Data, an event discussing the impact of data on education, finance, employment, government, and technology. While localized to Salt Lake City there are some general ideas about positioning and differentiation of a specific market.

Salt Lake City's biggest differentiator is the outdoors. "Life Elevated" is often aligned to what one can do within 20 minutes of downtown. We also have infrastructure - the NSA data center is here so the pipes got to be big, a hospital system that services 10 states and thus unique service delivery needs, and a work force with a decent ethos of helping rather than competing.

But it appears we cannot attract and retain the best and brightest young technologists. The logic woven from several conversations goes like this:
  • A career is nothing more than a series of interesting projects and changing jobs to do something new different is common in strong tech markets (a year at Facebook, two at Twitter, a startup and then a new product launch and sabbatical at Google). Interns brought here don't convert because there aren't enough big cool things going on like the Bay, Seattle, Boston, Austin, etc.
  • Job hopping creates a rapid rise in salaries for high-demand skills, and not only in technology, as companies compete for scarce resources with great credentials. Within a market it is business-as-normal, but across cities it makes "market-competitive compensation" surveys from your HR team irrelevant. If I'm willing to move, then the market is the country not your locale.
  • SLC is not a "Friends" city where millennials conduct life 24*7 in coffee shops and other urban venues. We'll be lucky if we get to 18*6.  So, even if we get the best there isn't a lifestyle typically associated with high energy folks.
  • We are good for families so we can attract and retain those wanting to settle down a bit, i.e., those in their 30's or 40's. They have experience.
  • At that stage of our lives job hopping isn't viewed as a means of defining oneself. And without movement, salaries don't rise based on intense competition.
  • If salaries aren't competitive we can't attract the talent we desire.  
And the circle begins again.

It would seem we're caught between our aspirations "Silicon Slopes is next Silicon Valley" - but based on deal flow funding so can Saint Louis, Munich, Seoul and Cincinnati (Beijing tops the list in terms of number of deals.)

So what kinds of companies should we create when the workforce is a) experienced and b) content? Rather than core game changing technologies, are there other classes of things we should focus on rather than the "next Google" (and good luck with that anywhere.) 
  • Can we rent company founders and focus on later stages of the evolution requiring experienced management?
  • Can we blend technology, the willingness to help and experience to solve human needs?
  • Can we take what is unique and different and position ourselves better?

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