Axios Northwest Arkansas

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November 06, 2021

Happy Saturday. Thanks for joining us for this special weekend newsletter dedicated to the technology workforce in NWA.

  • Let's dive right in.

Today's newsletter is 840 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: We need more tech people

Illustration of keyboard letters spelling "Helped Wanted"

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Northwest Arkansas will likely need to fill about 7,500 computer-related jobs — everything from data scientists to computer systems analysts to web developers — in the next 10 years, according to data provided by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Why it matters: Almost every industry needs a range of people in tech, and community leaders want to provide a pipeline of talent from here in NWA, Mike Harvey, the council's chief operating officer, and Joe Rollins, who specializes in workforce development for the council, tell Axios.

State of play: As of late October, the second-most job openings in NWA were for software developers.

  • And computer science positions had the most openings by programs, followed by business, then engineering with information technology at No. 7.

What's happening: The Northwest Arkansas Council is working with educational institutions to help develop training programs.

  • Many entry-level tech positions can be filled by people with skills in areas such as coding who do not necessarily need college degrees, but some mid-level and upper-level positions may need bachelor’s or even graduate degrees.
  • That's why filling the demand means working with all levels — high schools, NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Northwest Technical Institute, U of A, etc.

What they're saying: Rollins says the council has a partnership with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences to develop information technology apprenticeships for front-end and back-end web developers, full-stack developers, data analytics, cybersecurity and robotic process automation.

  • "I think the training is capable. We can build it. Right now there's just a lot of questions that we still have to ask about what’s needed," Rollins says.

Yes, but: Even though NWA is rapidly working to offer more training opportunities across the board, companies still have to recruit a workforce from outside the area to keep up with the demand.

  • That is part of the Northwest Arkansas Council's motivation for actively trying to persuade and incentivize people from larger cities to move here, Harvey says.

Go deeper: Check out careersnwa.com to see job opportunities.

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2. What schools are doing about it

photo of nwacc

NWACC has several programs for tech careers. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

NorthWest Arkansas Community College just launched the first course of its coding boot camps in October.

  • They're designed to put students on the fast track to learning multiple skills, like JavaScript and HTML, says Evetta Aldridge, director of training and community development at NWACC.

State of play: In addition to associate degrees at NWACC, the community college and the U of A's global campus both offer training programs aimed at recent high school graduates and adults wanting to "upskill," as in gain training that will help them get a promotion, says Aldridge and Mark Berkowick, assistant director of IT readiness at the global campus.

  • NWACC is the only accredited Amazon Web Services Academy in Arkansas that offers a certificate in cloud computing, Aldridge adds.
  • Two of the three courses, cloud foundations and cloud architecting, are already offered. Data analytics is coming summer 2022.

Keep reading: How Arkansas schools are addressing our need for tech workers

3. Charted: Tech wages

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chart: Axios Visuals

The average annual wage of Northwest Arkansas residents working in technology is $82,890 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • That's 35% lower than salaries for the same jobs in San Francisco and Seattle.
  • It's about 11% lower than those in Austin, a city NWA competes with for tech talent.

Why it matters: Average wages are an indicator of an employee's quality of life and how well they may be able to provide for a family and prepare for retirement.

Yes, but: The BLS numbers don't include benefits, stock options, work-life balance or the cost of living.

  • A cost of living calculator that will estimate everything from the cost of health care to toothpaste in comparable markets is available at the bottom of Finding NWA's homepage.

Context: A person who earns the average wage moving from San Francisco to NWA would earn an equivalent of $185,000 since the cost of living near the Golden Gate Bridge is 124% higher.

4. Startup your own job

Illustration of a woman's hand holding a lightbulb with a dollar sign for the filament

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Just as there are job openings for techies, there are opportunities for them to blaze their own entrepreneurial trails.

Context: JB Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart employ the majority of the IT workforce in NWA, but all companies have needs that can't necessarily be met by in-house teams.

  • Tech startups that solve problems for other companies can carve a niche for themselves.

Why it matters: Entrepreneurs help build and sustain an area's economy through job creation and supporting other businesses.

Resources: Here are several Northwest Arkansas organizations to help those with a germ of an idea to get started:

  • Startup Junkie provides no-cost consulting services, networking opportunities and connections to investors.
  • Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, is part of the University of Arkansas.
  • Startup NWA is a clearinghouse for all-things startup related in NWA. The program makes connections with investors, entrepreneurs and established companies.
  • Exchange provides both a coworking space and mentorship programs for entrepreneurs.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you again Monday morning.

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