I’ve never been more excited to be in the computer science field in the state of Arkansas than I am right now. Tech workforce vacancies are set to grow to 1.4 million in the next three years, and company leaders nationwide are struggling to fill those positions.
As the chief technology officer at one of America’s fastest-growing companies, I also see the imminent need to close the workforce gap. I’m glad to live in a state where our governor and other officials do, too.
In August, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of a new website, ARTechJobs.com, to connect job seekers with the hundreds of tech openings right here in the Natural State. This follows a successful push by the governor to require every school in Arkansas to teach computer coding classes.
Through Gov. Hutchinson’s leadership, Arkansas is the only state in the nation to have met all nine policy standards proposed by Code.org, a nonprofit foundation with a goal of providing students with greater access to computer science education. This focus on computer science in our schools will reap tangible benefits, not only for companies like RevUnit, but for all of Arkansas.
According to Code.org, if every available computer science job in the state were filled today, the economic impact of salaries alone would top $112 million. The average salary for a computer science job in Arkansas is more than $30,000 higher than the average salary for all other occupations combined.
Other initiatives are also helping us meet the demand for high-tech, high-paying jobs. For instance, RevUnit recently hired a contract lawyer-turned-junior software developer from the University of Arkansas’s IT Readiness certificate program. The program, funded by a grant from the state, teaches the types of skills that develop in-demand talent for Northwest Arkansas tech companies through training typically only available in larger metropolitan areas.
The IT Solutions strand of the Bentonville High School’s Ignite program matches students interested in computer science with professional mentors who can help them on their path to success. We have hosted five interns and hired three employees who participated in Ignite.
Among other successful high school and certificate programs, Ignite demonstrates that tech employees don’t necessarily need college degrees. Young software developers-in-training can often move from high school directly to the workforce with enough focus and effort.
As shown by Stephen Robideaux, the former lawyer who is now my coworker, individuals who are looking for a career change also have the chance to quickly move in to help fill the IT workforce gap. Stephen wanted a job he could enjoy, which is yet another reason why meeting the demand for new tech employees is an attainable goal.
Coding is a rewarding career that provides individuals with an opportunity for lifelong learning. IT careers offer flexibility, with many employers allowing employees to work remotely from home or other office sites. Many tech companies, including RevUnit, make company culture a priority.
I am confident we are heading in the right direction when it comes to meeting the demand for computer science jobs. Gov. Hutchinson’s coding initiative, the IT Readiness program and Ignite are just a few examples of the commitment this state has made to ensuring the tech sector is an economic development engine for Arkansas.
To keep moving ahead, computer science as a career field must be more accessible to women and minorities. As a state, we must embrace diversity and inclusiveness. Arkansas’s next generation of tech leaders looks to our culture and our quality of life when deciding whether to stay in the state.
Let’s work together to ensure our best and brightest computer scientists want that job in Arkansas instead of the million-plus elsewhere.
Editor’s note: Michael Paladino is co-founder and chief technology officer at RevUnit, a Bentonville-based product development studio. The opinions expressed are those of the author.