ST. GEORGE – The Southern Utah tech community is working hard to prepare children for lucrative jobs in high-tech. This was the message delivered to audience members at the monthly Dixie Techs lunch meeting held Friday at DSU’s Russell Taylor Health Science Building.
Keynote speaker Eric Pedersen, Dean of Science and Technology at Dixie State University and a professor of web development as well as an active entrepreneur, gave a presentation titled “State of the Union on the Tech Pipeline in Southern Utah.”
“In my conversation with tech companies, the No. 1 issue is talent,” Pedersen said. “About two-and-a-half, three years ago, we really set out to solve that problem … or at least part of the problem.”
Looking at the talent market, you’ll find some interesting things, Pedersen said. Dixie State University serves a regional market which includes the Wasatch Front and Southern California; 30,000 tech jobs are available within 300 miles of St. George.
“Most of those jobs are high-paying jobs,” Pedersen said. “Many of the tech jobs within our regional market pay $80,000 or better, and most of you are thinking ‘not in St. George,’ you’re competing, though, against these regional markets.”
Looking at the numbers, Pedersen said, every 12.5 jobs at $80,000 represents $1 million in income; 30,000 jobs at that pay rate represents billions of dollars of potential income.
Pedersen referred to Dixie State University’s Computer and Information Technology Department Web page, which maintains a listing of currently available technology jobs – all posted in the last 10 days – within a 300-mile radius of St. George. As of Friday afternoon, the total available tech jobs listed on the site was 33,934.
“So the opportunity continues to climb if the available talent were available,” he said. Supply, however, is a significant problem. Only 550-600 computer science majors graduate each year from Utah’s colleges and universities.
“As we continue to watch this problem get worse, we are trying to solve it at the same time,” Pedersen said.
And it’s not just a local problem. Oxford University Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship Simon Gibson noticed the same problem, Pedersen said. As a successful and prolific entrepreneur, Gibson identified lack of available talent as the No. 1 challenge in growing tech companies.
So he started a program where he has enrolled 50,000 kids in programming across the country, and most of them are teenagers. Other groups have identified the same problem, and are coming up with similar solutions.
Solving the problem
Pedersen and audience members identified three solutions: getting kids involved in technology when they’re young, having access to technology in schools and having properly trained computer science teachers in high schools. Well-qualified computer science teachers often get hired by tech companies, which can pay significantly more.
One audience member suggested removing barriers to attending computer science schools by making tuition free. Code School is one way this is already happening, Pedersen said. Code School is a free, intensive, eight-week course for students interested in jumpstarting their programming and web careers and is offered by Dixie State University.
Private companies and DSU faculty contribute to setting up and teaching the camps, Pedersen said. About 30 kids are signed up for the class each year, and many of the participants are offered internships.
Launch Pad is another program which is helping with the problem of DSU computer science graduates needing work experience before they can get hired. It is an after-school, in-office program, where middle and high school students spend time with developers and find out what real-life programming is all about.
“What’s happening is this tech transformation is excluding certain demographics,” Pedersen said. Seventy percent of engineers who work for Google, Apple or Amazon are white males.
“And what we found is if you start young, and tell them and instruct them that they can do this, that they will,” Pederson said. The result is the popular program Girls Go Digital, aimed at girls ages 7 through 17.
Other opportunities available locally for children include the after-school program Code Changers, the new Design School, Maker Camp, Makerspace, Computer Camp, Code Camp, Lego robotics leagues, and several others.
Pedersen has been involved in the tech sector in Southern Utah for 25 years, and started the Center for Excellence for Computer Graphics at DSU, Dixie Techs’ President Joshua Aikens said. Pedersen was also a member of the development team that created the first website in Utah.
Information about Code School, Code Camp, Girls Go Digital, DSU/4-H Maker Camp and other programs can be found here
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