“Getting focused on talent strategy and a skilled workforce of the future is a huge issue for the region, and it's not going to happen if we don't come together as a community. We will be left behind if we don't figure it out.” -Corrine Burger, managing director, JPMorgan Chase

As managing director of the Ohio Innovation Fund, Bill Baumel engages with 16 startup companies that are working on game-changing applications in cybersecurity, medical technology and data science. By their nature, these companies are innovators and the positions they need to fill often are technical and require highly specialized backgrounds or education in areas like machine learning, software engineering and laboratory research. 

Most of the firms, however, aren’t breaking much of a sweat filling those jobs. That’s thanks, in part, to partnerships with various universities in Ohio under a “student experience program” run by the fund that places soon-to-be graduates inside the portfolio companies to gain hands-on experience. Many students, in fact, are hired full time after they receive their diplomas. 

Because the entrepreneurial ecosystem relies on a skilled workforce to thrive, the program helps the startups by introducing them to students who are studying in relevant fields, including business and finance, engineering, computer science and biological sciences. Baumel has found that funneling the highest-performing talent into these firms is fueling their growth. 

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“The program gives 100 students a year exposure to our portfolio companies,” he says. “We recently had a finance student from (Ohio State University) join (enterprise collaboration monitoring firm) Aware full time after graduation in May of 2019. She’s now second in command of their finance department. We’re showing students that they can stay in Ohio and have access to hyper-growth technology startups where they can make an impact right out of college.”

To be sure, a young startup doesn’t have the staffing challenges a large corporation does. But as a technology and skilled worker shortage continues to roil both corporate America and corporate Columbus, the fund’s partnerships with academia symbolize how state and city leaders have decided to tackle the problem. Those business and government chiefs believe a heightened focus on educational partnerships will make Ohio the place to be for those who want to work in tech in the Midwest. 

“There’s a realization that the state that gets this right in terms of tech jobs that are in demand and pay well will have an edge for workforce talent,” says Pat Tiberi, president and CEO of the Ohio Business Roundtable. The organization is working in partnership with local CEOs, higher education and community and labor organizations on a Workforce Partnership Initiative to solve the challenge of recruiting and reskilling those who are here to fill in-demand technology jobs.

‘We’re a tech company’

More than 7 million jobs in the U.S. sat unfilled at the end of 2019, according to data from staffing firm Robert Half, and 89 percent of technology industry leaders reported difficulty finding skilled candidates for professional-level roles. 

As of mid-December, the top occupation in the Columbus metropolitan area for the number of job postings was software developer/engineer, according to data from Burning Glass. There were 4,352 postings for that position over a 90-day period, nearly double the next most in-demand posting for tractor-trailer truck drivers.

Among jobs in information technology or engineering functions, according to a One Columbus analysis of LinkedIn Talent Insights, the fastest-growing skills are the Python programming language, the Git version control system, analytics and HTML5. 

Todd Warner, Columbus State Community College’s executive in residence for workforce innovation, says the talent gap has become more pronounced these days because pretty much every company is a technology company. 

“Companies that just five or 10 years ago would not have classified themselves as a tech company are thinking today, ‘We’re a tech company,’ ” he says. “Energy, insurance, banking – they’re all at the heart of this digital transformation occurring across industry.”

Because the Columbus region has one of the highest concentrations of higher education institutions in the country—50 college and university campuses that produce 20,000 annual graduates— leaders know that the business-education connection is the best way to keep the best and brightest here. 

In December, business, government and higher education leaders announced a new partnership to ensure more Ohioans have the skills and training to fill in-demand jobs in data analytics, cloud technologies and cybersecurity. The new Office of Talent Strategy is a workforce development center that’s a continuation of the Workforce Partnership Initiative and is housed at Columbus State. It has the backing of several of the area’s largest employers, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and American Electric Power Company Inc. The goal is to design curriculum that meets the needs of employers and create pathways for internships and careers.

“Employers are providing leadership and funds and there’s support from the governor’s office,” Tiberi says. “This is about collaboration and cooperation rather than competition.”

Columbus State has been a champion of partnerships with the business community under the direction of President David Harrison. At the time of the announcement he said the new center “is an outstanding opportunity to scale up our existing efforts with community partners toward the creation and retention of even more good-paying jobs within our region.”

Coming together as a community

With so many college students in the city, one might ask why there’s a talent gap in the first place. The answer is – in addition to the fact that technology functions are now inherent in nearly every company – that the competition for talent has no borders. Even so, students are not necessarily leaving Central Ohio en masse to work at places like Facebook and Google.

Jeff Rice, executive director, Office of Career Management and associate to the dean for staff professional development at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, says 38 percent of the college’s students who took jobs in management information systems last year stayed in Central Ohio. 

“Those are pure technology-based jobs,” he says, “and they were with companies like Nationwide, Huntington Bank, JPMorgan and Root Insurance.”

Corrine Burger, who oversees local operations for JPMorgan Chase, which is Columbus’ largest private employer, says one-fourth of its local workforce of 20,000 is filled by technologists. Chatbots, artificial intelligence and ongoing advances in mobile banking have opened up new areas for people interested in tech careers to explore. To help fill in-demand jobs, the bank is leaning on its local higher education partners. For example, its TechStart program for current high-performing operational employees collaborates with Columbus State to train them for roles in cloud computing and java coding. 

Last year, the bank announced a partnership with Otterbein University to set up a financial technology research and development arm on its campus at The Point. It brings in Otterbein students and JPMorgan Chase employees to collaborate on financial technology research and development. It’s an opportunity to work with the next generation of innovators to solve real-world challenges.

JPMorgan Chase also partners with Ohio State to upskill workers so they can become certified in data analytics through an on-site program. Kyle Zitron, who has a degree in sociology, joined the bank 11 years ago as a phone specialist. He completed the program in May and now works in ATM data analytics. “I saw it as a way to learn skills that I didn’t take in school and to advance my career in an area I was passionate about,” Zitron says. 

JPMorgan Chase also brings in a couple hundred interns every year, and Burger says more of them are starting to come from outside Ohio, including from the coasts. One advantage the bank has is that its Innovation Lab is in Central Ohio and many students are drawn to work that involves its app, mobile site, tablets, ATMs and much of the technology that customers see.

Externally, Chase has an especially strong relationship with Ohio State, which is its largest source of new employees. Burger says the bank constantly looks to hire out of engineering colleges across the Midwest, but so, too, do large technology companies. 

“Getting focused on talent strategy and a skilled workforce of the future is a huge issue for the region,” she says, “and it’s not going to happen if we don’t come together as a community. We will be left behind if we don’t figure it out.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.