IT Leaders Gather at White House to Address Talent Gap

Carousel Industries’ Tim Hebert among TechHire program members talking about widening net of candidates, increased minority and focus on cybersecurity.

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There’s a serious problem when it comes to hiring people in IT these days, and Carousel Industries chief client officer Tim Hebert is determined to fix it.

Hebert, whose title was Atrion CEO until the company’s sale to Carousel became official, is part of a nationwide initiative known as Tech Hire, a program President Barack Obama created in 2015 to help technology companies by building their talent pipelines.

The program, which is part of the Opportunity at Work program, originally launched in 20 cities across the U.S. and is now in more than 70 cities, with a focus on bringing “non-traditional” people into the technology world. TechHire hopes to add 1 million jobs in the tech sector over the next decade.

Obama invited about 130 people to the White House in December to talk about the progress of TechHire and its future, and Hebert was among a handful of business leaders to secure an invitation. During the summit, attendees shared best practices and discussed the struggles of attracting people to technology careers these days.

“It was a very collaborative discussion at a very high level,” says Hebert, who met U.S. chief technology officer Megan Smith during the networking portion of the conference. Most of the people invited to the conference represented non-profit organizations and government agencies, although Hebert was also in the company of employees of Facebook, General Electric and other large companies.

In one session, Smith took a global look at the IT industry and issues surrounding IT talent and how that’s changing the U.S. economy. Although many believe the country’s jobs are being sent overseas, Smith noted about two-thirds of those jobs are actually being lost to automation, not to another land.

The gathering also included group discussions about technology hiring and talent in the tech sector. Other discussions focused on the mechanics of changing the makeup of tech hiring by addressing the companies that have a so-called hiring bias against people who aren’t traditionally qualified for jobs in the tech world.

The TechHire event represented the second time Hebert came to the nation’s capital in 2016, with the first time being as a guest of U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin for Obama’s final State of the Union address. Hebert has also long espoused the apprenticeship program at Atrion that’s aimed at helping new employees earn Microsoft certification and Cisco study credits through classroom and in-the-field experiences.

Hebert called the TechHire event “a validation that what we’ve been doing for the last eight to 10 years is the right thing and that we’re much further along than some others. The talent challenge is only going to get worse. There aren’t enough people to fill the openings we have now. We need to start doing things now to address this.”

Another issue in the IT space, says Hebert, is the lack of diversity.

“The average IT person looks like me: a white, middle-aged man,” he says. “If we’re not doing things to attract minorities and women to this industry, the problem we have now is only going to get worse. We need to rethink our hiring practices. We have to stop focusing on experience and pedigree. We can train them technically.”

More effort needs to be made to introduce IT concepts to those in rural areas and the military, says Hebert, noting former soldiers bring an unmatched level of maturity and professionalism to anything they do after their deployments.

Because TechHire primarily operates through private-sector funding, Hebert isn’t nervous about the transition from Obama to President-elect Donald Trump on Jan. 20.

“I hope Donald Trump understands the full gamut of infrastructure and the need to rebuild it,” says Hebert. “I’m glad we’re having the discussion about hacking and cybersecurity. The nature of our country is at risk. We have to make some investment in that.”

Hebert is enthusiastic about the future of TechHire and believes it could make a real difference.

“There’s power in convening people of a like mind together,” he says. “A lot of big companies are more involved in support and funding of the program; they’re not as actively involved in the TechHire program as someone like me. The real key is it’s not just about writing a check and walking away.”

Hebert expects more meetings of TechHire advocates and members in the future and a continued growth of the program.

“What’s really unique is how different entities are coming together to work on this issue,” he says. “It’s a non-partisan issue we all need to address.”