Michigan Startups Working to Bridge IT Talent Gap

[Corrected 4/4/14, 6:01 p.m. See below.] Detroit’s shortage of information technology talent is not a new problem, but it does seem to be getting more pronounced as the number of tech startups taking root in Michigan grows. In 2012, Dice.com designated Detroit as the fifth-fastest growing tech city in the nation. And in 2013, Michigan’s high-tech job growth rate of 6.9 percent was the third highest in the nation, fueled in part by the rebounding auto industry. That’s led to a lot of unfilled positions. In Southeast Michigan, there are more than 1,000 tech jobs on any given day listed on Dice.com; today there are 1,245 tech jobs listed within a 40-mile radius of Detroit.

This shortage, however, has spawned another kind of innovation. Startups are springing up to try to fill the skills and talent gap by offering tech training programs.

Last year, for example, Ann Arbor, MI-based software guru Bill Wagner sold his software development firm, SRT Solutions, to Atomic Object. He was trying to figure out what do to next when he hit upon the idea of IT training courses. “I spent the bulk of my time at SRT helping new hires go from being new employees to seasoned computer engineers,” he says. “I looked at some of the materials I’ve done in the past and used that to put a training curriculum together.”

It helped that Wagner has written two best-selling books about the programming language C#, which he uses in teaching in his classes. He’s also planning to focus on ASP.NET, Visual Studio, LINQ, and lean development practices.

Wagner pitches his courses not to prospective students, but rather directly to companies in any industry that employs software developers. He plans to personally teach the training courses at his clients’ offices so work days are disrupted as little as possible. Wagner says he charges businesses $1,500 per developer and will customize course materials for companies that have large teams requiring multiple sessions.

“They say it’s difficult to find talent around here, but too many managers think it’s a zero sum game—that they have to win the battle for talent,” Wagner says. “Instead, I want them to grow the talent they already have. Too many employers want to hire senior-level developers. Instead, hire these talented young people and train them. That benefits the whole region.”

Detroit Labs is another company seeking to boost IT skills and talents in the metro Detroit region. At the end of March, the app developer launched an apprenticeship program that teaches people how to build apps, regardless of their experience level. “We’re looking at two groups: new graduates from high school or with an associate’s degree, and those looking to make a career change,” says Nathan Hughes, co-founder of Detroit Labs.

Hughes says the goal is to turn apprentices into full-time app developers with a three-month training program. The program will run each spring and fall. The spring session, underway now with ten students, focuses on iOS app development. The fall session will focus on Android mobile development. The curriculum includes one month … Next Page »

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