News Column

Information-technology jobs difficult to fill in Triad

January 23, 2014

By Richard M. Barron, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.



Jan. 23--On Nov. 23, 2011, Michael "Chip" Wood heard what every worker fears: His job was headed overseas.

He was 52 -- another middle-aged industrial worker pushed into a forgotten generation.

Now, he's trying to earn a spot in the only generation that matters -- the one that knows everything about technology.

According to CareerBuilder.com, the Piedmont Triad has 6,000 job openings for well-trained information technology workers.

The same employment-search service said local companies can find only 55 percent of the workers they need.

The jobs are not all average, entry-level jobs. They tell the tale of a dramatic economic shift.

And Wood is determined to leave the industrial economy behind for a brighter future.

He said he had hoped it wouldn't come to this.

"I was hoping I would be able to get to retirement age," said Wood, who was a prepress operator in a printing company. "But I believed in my heart of hearts that was not going to happen. A lot of us saw the writing on the wall years ago."

Tens of thousands of people just like him -- with high school degrees and decades of work in traditional Triad industries -- can tell the same tale. They may never find good jobs again.

Wood of McLeansville believes he will.

Many of the available information-technology jobs are for experienced people, managers, and talented people who know what makes technology tick.

Those people are the hardest to find. They're the experts.

Corporations rely on technology more than their employees would imagine. Many industries wouldn't exist without it: mobile phone companies, Web developers, app developers, Web security companies.

For every change, expansion or new technology, a company needs a new or retrained expert.

It's a struggle to keep up with innovations and new systems.

The technology explosion is overwhelming and is changing businesses of all kinds that need people, whether they work directly with customers, handle data for other corporations or manage in-house networks.

Amanda Box, director of business operations for the Piedmont Triad office of TEKsystems, said her company is combing the market for good contract, temporary-to-permanent and permanent workers for all types of companies.

A new wave of technology is always on the way. It's the nature of the business.

"Because we work with over 200 companies, we understand not just what's in front of us, but what's coming down the road," Box said.

Think back just a few years. It wasn't always this way.

Eight years ago, consumers had never seen an app for a phone.

Now, Box said, "we're two generations past that. Almost three."

The world is awash with technology potential and problems -- and looking for people who can help.

Target's financial records are breached? Internet security experts can name their price.

Google writes a new app? Somebody needs to run operations on the back end so users can easily find what they are looking for.

HealthCare.gov has a disastrous website launch? Well, you get the picture.

IT educators, students and corporations have barely caught up when another challenge comes around the corner.

Kevin Lee, the department chairman for computer technologies at GTCC, said it's tough to stay one step ahead of industry.

He got his master's degree in 2003. And as he looks at the list of classes GTCC offers today in IT, Lee said, "I didn't have a class on anything on the list in 2003 because none of the technology was around."

College students who are earning bachelor's degrees in technology are hustling for those jobs.

They have to work hard and come out of school with the training they need to compete for the better technology jobs.

Arnett L. Howerton, who will graduate from UNCG in May, is learning about technology and business, so he can learn how both fit together.

Howerton said he will graduate with a B.S. in information-systems operations management. He applauds the business school at UNCG for giving him a much broader education.

That means learning how to deal with all types of people in the business world. Students must attend classes in a variety of majors to learn all facets of business.

He thinks he has done what it takes to land a job: internships, instruction at UNCG and running his own Web design business.

Box is referring to people like Howerton when she talks about what students need to do to get the best jobs.

"I can't stress enough: internships and entry-level positions as they are going through college," she said.

Wood, the former prepress operator, said going back to school was a big step for him.

As a young man, Wood did what tens of thousands of Triad workers did. He graduated from high school and signed on as an apprentice.

Pretty soon, he was an expert, capable of other jobs, even supervising. He stayed at the company for 32 years.

Then, the shock of job loss.

But Wood had the kind of safety net that lots of workers don't have: His company qualified for its workers to get education support from the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program. That's money the government uses to retrain workers who are displaced if their jobs go overseas.

It paid for Wood's two-year education at GTCC. He will graduate in May with an associate's degree in computer information technology.

Lots of people, young and old, also will graduate.

At 54, will Wood have an edge?

"I know I am going to be competing with a lot of people who are coming out at 21-22 years old," he said.

"If I have some people skills (younger graduates) might not have, 30 years of working with people, that can help me," Wood said.

He just wants to get back to work.

"I'm not the kind of guy who likes going to school," Wood said. "I like to get up and go to work every day."

Contact Richard M. Barron at (336) 373-7371, and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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(c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at www.news-record.com

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Source: News & Record (Greensboro, NC)


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