WPTI Hosts Employer Symposium on Tech Sector, With Symposium on Construction and Manufacturing Coming March 16

On Tuesday, February 16, WPTI hosted the fourth session in our Employer Symposium Series in partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), this time focused on the tech industry, a growing force in New York City’s economy. We were joined by stakeholders representing employers, intermediaries, training providers, and workers themselves, for a robust conversation about New York City’s growing tech economy, the need for a more diverse tech industry, and pathways into rewarding tech careers. Panelistsshared helpful resources for individuals looking to enter the sector, as well as the workforce development providers that serve them.

A Growing Sector and a Dynamic Economic Force

Our session began with a presentation by Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech:NYC, a coalition of more than 800 New York City tech employers, investors, and other stakeholders. She spoke of the fact that COVID-19 has impacted the tech sector, much as it has impacted the broader economy, leaving Google, Amazon, and Tik Tok as the only major New York tech employers continuing to hire large numbers of workers in recent months. However, increasingly all companies are becoming increasingly technology-driven, with their work increasingly digitized, and overall technology jobs have continued to grow in recent years. Meanwhile, a key priority for New York City’s tech sector has been to increase the diversity of its workforce – an acknowledged challenge for the sector in recent years – and ensuring that more New Yorkers are prepared for the technology jobs of the future, keeping in mind that technology companies across the country will “go to the talent” – making NYC an incredibly desirable market.

Dr. James Parrott of the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School reprised his role from throughout our Employer Symposium Series, sharing and explaining critical labor market data on the tech sector. Per Parrott, the technology sector has become a “dynamic force” in New York City’s economy in recent years, with 370,000 payroll jobs in tech industries – constituting 8.3 percent of the city’s total payroll jobs. Since 2008, the city has added 150-200,000 tech jobs. Currently, there are approximately 60-70,000 entry-level jobs in the sector.

In spite of this growth, NYC’s tech sector has faced real challenges with regard to diversity, as the sector remains disproportionately male, white, and Asian, with a dearth of Black, Latinx, and female workers. Compounding this issue of underrepresentation is the fact that across the broader economy, job losses related to COVID-19 have most heavily impacted workers of color, low-wage workers, and young people.

The workforce development field has increasingly looked to the tech sector as a possible source for jobs and career pathways in recent years, encouraged not only by the sector’s growth, but also that 25 percent of the jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree and the fact that wages in this sector are high compared to the broader NYC labor market. In a COVID-impacted and post-COVID environment, we have seen increased demand for digital skills, as well as increases in demand for remote operations and e-commerce services. The economy has also seen a broad need for data analytics, data and network security, digital supply chain management, coding, and web development. Furthermore, throughout the field, employers have looked more to key competencies and skill sets, rather than traditional credentials like college degrees. Also encouraging is the increase in tech training programs and boot camps – including more than 30 organizations providing adult IT training in NYC – coupled with an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion across the tech sector, which can provide more pipelines and pathways into high-growth tech careers for a greater population of New Yorkers.

A Panel of Employers, Tech Workers, and Training Providers

Following Dr. Parrott’s presentation, we were joined by a panel, consisting of stakeholders representing various pieces of New York City’s tech ecosystem:

Bret Collazzi of HR&A Advisors spoke about the tech sector’s efforts to diversify its workforce here in New York City, sharing the fact that in spite of the industry’s significant growth in recent years, the needle has not moved much with regard to increasing the racial and gender diversity of its workforce – specifically the underrepresentation of Black and Latinx workers as well as women. In part, this has been due to an overreliance on a handful of schools and programs as recruitment pipelines, as well as insufficient efforts to create inclusive environments.

Abe Mendez of Per Scholas shared his organization’s efforts to provide free, high-quality tech training to adults in New York City (and around the country) and connect tech employers with a more diverse, highly qualified workforce. The program has increasingly emphasized making its programs more accessible to participants, especially in an all-remote environment, and even throughout COVID-19, has worked to build strong, long-term relationships with employers, positioning itself as a no-cost talent-sourcing resource. This ultimately provides more and better opportunities for job seekers and trainees participating in Per Scholas programs, and has helped employers hire a more diverse population of workers.

Roundtable Technology provides cybersecurity and other technology resources to nonprofits, small businesses, and other enterprises. According to Joshua Peskay, this support is critical for nonprofits, who often struggle with technology challenges at all levels, and who often have to ensure high levels of data security – as they’re dealing with private, sensitive client information. In addition, Roundtable and its team have to remain informed on a highly-detailed regulatory environment with regard to data security, to ensure that nonprofit organizations and other clients are up-to-date on the law and meeting all of their obligations. The all-virtual, remote work environment has added additional complications to Roundtable’s work, as this has created additional needs for organizations – whose staff  may have less reliable technology infrastructure when working from home.

For Peter Ward of SoHo Dragon, which provides technology consulting as well as recruiting services, the COVID-19 pandemic has actually created opportunities – for both the company and the jobseekers it connects with employment. Due to the increasingly remote work environment, employers are now able to hire without being as constrained with regard to workers’ location. This has broadened and diversified their talent pool, and made jobs more accessible to a greater number of workers.

Louise Spence of Columbia University represented a unique voice on the panel, as a worker who entered into a tech career, and advanced rapidly in the field, without a bachelor’s degree. Louise shared her journey, wherein she began a data entry job and, using a combination of free online resources and on-the-job training, she was able to develop a skill set in both technology and project management that allowed her to rise in her tech career. She also stressed that not all tech jobs require coding, and often skills such as communication can be especially helpful, as often people are needed who can “translate” between tech and non-tech staff who need to work together on a project.

Both Louise and Peter stressed that GitHub can be a valuable tool, serving as a sort of online resume and a way to showcase one’s talent and portfolio of work. And in multiple breakout rooms,  panelists and members of the audience re-emphasized Louise’s point about non-tech skills and the importance of communication as critical elements that can help workers – especially those coming from a non-tech background – advance in the technology field.

Panelists also shared resources that can benefit those seeking technology careers, including free e-learning sites – such as Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and Trailhead (by Salesforce), as well as apps offering templates and other tools, such as Lucidchart and Smartdraw. These may be of interest to students, jobseekers, and the organizations that work with them.

What’s Next?

On Tuesday, March 16, from 8:30-10:30am, WPTI and NYCEDC will host the fifth and final session of our inaugural Employer Symposium Series, focused on the construction and manufacturing sectors. Once again, our session will feature a presentation on labor market data from Dr. James Parrott of the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, followed by panels of key stakeholders and breakout conversations.

Confirmed panelists include:

Space is limited, so sign up soon! CLICK HERE to register. Please contact Justin Collins, Assistant Director of the Workforce Field Building Hub at WPTI, at jcollins@workforceprofessionals.org, if you have any questions.