ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Chamber unveils campaign to recruit tech workers

Austin Chamber of Commerce targets tech workers in latest recruitment campaign

Posted February 23rd, 2016

Story highlights
  • Tech companies say they struggle to recruit for high-skilled jobs
  • Local chamber launches web site to entice tech workers to Austin

We’ve all groaned at the statistics: Dozens of new people move into Austin every day.

But even with a flood of newcomers, Austin tech companies say they are having trouble recruiting and retaining workers for some highly-skilled positions.

At Indeed.com, an Austin-based job search firm, an executive in charge of recruiting said he had such a hard time convincing young software engineers to move to Austin that they had to open or expand offices in Seattle and San Francisco last year.

The reason for the reluctance is the perception that places like Silicon Valley are where “the best people are,” said Doug Gray, a senior vice president at Indeed. “People are looking for someone they can learn from,” Gray said. “We need to make sure we have got these talent magnets here in Austin.”

According to data released Tuesday that was compiled by Indeed.com, more than 10 percent of computer science graduates in Austin are looking for jobs outside of Texas, with the most popular location being San Francisco. Meanwhile, 31 percent of computer science graduates in top tech cities are working in the San Francisco area, compared to 13.4 percent working in Austin.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce is highlighting these statistics as it unveils a new campaign targeted at recruiting tech workers. The campaign, dubbed “Work Live Austin,” is being kicked off with an inaugural chamber event called “State of Talent,” held Tuesday evening at Zach Theatre, with speeches from tech employers such as Gray, as well as Greg Garrison, Google’s head of global software engineering, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler. 

 Garrison said most cities with a big tech presence have a tight labor market.

“They are in a similar situation as we are with labor shortages,” Garrison said. So recruiting talent from other cities won’t solve the tech talent shortfall, he said.

He said Austin has to work on producing more homegrown tech talent, citing various internship programs, code schools and higher education efforts as vital to this goal. “We need to invest more in our own talent pipeline,” Garrison said.

Garrison said the “Work Live Austin” effort will help convince tech workers that “you don’t just come to Austin for a job, you come for a career.”

Adler said fixing the tech talent shortage can also help address the city’s affordability challenges, citing programs that can help train and educate low-wage workers to prepare them for higher-skilled tech jobs.

It’s not new that tech companies struggle when recruiting skilled workers. A survey of local tech employers done by the Austin Technology Council last year found that 70 percent of respondents said it was “difficult” to “extremely difficult” to fill job openings. The companies that appear to struggle the most are “second-stage” companies that have out-grown the start-up phase of company development.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has gotten involved because they are concerned the tech talent shortage creates a major obstacle for tech employers to grow a local workforce. Drew Scheberle, a senior vice president at the chamber, said it’s about not just competing with other cities for tech talent, but also improving the educational pipeline here in Austin.

Ricardo Brazziell/American-Statesman StaffLocal employers and recruiters listen to Mayor Steve Adler speak at the Austin Chamber of Commerce's "State of Talent" event.

The technology council study shows that local employers produce between 2,500 to 3,500 jobs each year in the region’s 19 core high-tech occupations. But local colleges and universities awarded just 1,539 degrees needed for those jobs. (Although it’s worth nothing that the Indeed data found that 30 percent of job seekers come from outside Texas, and that not all the tech graduates in Austin take jobs locally.)

There’s also evidence that salary differences play a factor. Of the survey respondents who asked out-of-market candidates why they declined a job offer, 47 percent reported low salary as a factor. According to regional wage data on tech occupations in 2013, Austin’s median salary was $80,454 compared to $116,314 in San Jose and $102,066 in Seattle.

Gray said Indeed, which employs 500 people in Austin, would prefer to keep most of its software engineering employees in Austin rather than open up satellite offices in West Coast cities.

“When building software, we find that people being close to each other, especially with how rapidly we experiment with our product, makes it easier,” he said. Unlike some tech firms that look for experience, Indeed is focused on recruiting top talent from schools like the MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and Rice University. “These people are going to be stars in this field a decade from now,” he said.

Gray wants to encourage the business community to plant the seeds for Austin to become the home of future stars in the tech industry. “There is an investment,” he said. “That initial first year or two is an investment in them. It will pay off in three to four years.”



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