Employers Engineer Local Group To Boost Tech Workforce

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Nov 29, 2023
The Tech Talent Collaborative has been quietly building Wilmington’s skilled tech workforce since 2022.

The collaborative is hosted by Cape Fear Collective and is co-chaired by John Gillespie of MegaCorp Logistics, Kate Groat of Live Oak Bank and Lisa Leath of Vantaca. More than a dozen Wilmington tech employers comprise the rest of the group.

Tech Talent Collaborative members convene to find data and discuss what jobs need to be filled across Wilmington’s tech industry and what skills candidates need to fill those jobs. The vision is for tech employers to work together to improve the talent pool instead of competing for qualified candidates, according to Groat. In 2024, the group expects to begin hosting monthly meetings.

As opposed to seeing remote workers continue to fill Wilmington’s tech jobs, the group wants to help build local talent supply chains. Many of Wilmington’s tech companies are full of remote workers, the collaborative found.

Co-chair Gillespie is chief technology officer at MegaCorp, a logistics company based in Wilmington. He said he became aware of the Tech Talent Collaborative when Meaghan Dennison, CEO of Cape Fear Collective, began collecting data from around the city regarding what companies employ locally within the tech space.

The collective polled companies that included optical fiber plant Corning; manufacturer GE Hitachi; Novant Health; software company Vantaca; Citizens Bank; MegaCorp; and fintechs nCino and Apiture. Dennison asked company employers how they recruit for tech jobs, if they see a gap in applicants’ skills, how they post on job boards and how much of their workforce is remote, Gillespie said.

Re-skilling or up-skilling local individuals instead of hiring outside the Wilmington metro area is a shared goal between the Cape Fear Collective and Tech Talent Collaborative, Dennison said. The technology industry has grown in Wilmington, and now the workforce needs to have the skills to meet that demand, she said.

The lightbulb moment for Gillespie and co-chair Groat was when the two employers looked at the data Dennison gathered and saw both companies had about 50% in-person and 50% remote workers, Gillespie said. They saw the lack of skilled local workers in their own employee populations.

The two roles lacking the most local talent were software engineers and SalesForce administrators across companies, including Live Oak Bank, according to Groat.

Live Oak Bank values its local workforce, Groat said in an email to the Business Journal. It wants to be less reliant on importing talent to lower its costs and raise the annual median income of the region. The bank has worked with outside organizations to skill its workforce. 

"Live Oak has worked with StepUp Wilmington and Steigler Ed Tech for their ability to train and match candidates with our vacancies," Groat said. "Now, with support from the City’s Digital Bridge Investment, those organizations will be able to train candidates for the specific roles articulated by local employers."

Although MegaCorp is welcoming to remote workers, especially post-pandemic, its technology departments like software development and IT are about half remote — a local hires gap the company would like to narrow, Gillespie said. MegaCorp accomplished this through its internship, allocating bits of its budget to training interns and current staff to be up to date on its software languages, which are not usually taught at local universities, he said.

During a discussion with Dennison about the collective’s findings, the tech employers decided that each company paying to train its team members independently is not helping to upskill Wilmington’s workforce as a whole. This is where the local education initiatives kicked in.

Co-chair Leath used her connections to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to see what that university teaches in its boot camps. The collaborative met with Ron Vetter of the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s newly established College of Science and Engineering to see what the local university could do with its connections within the UNC system to build a boot camp of its own.

Gillespie said the short boot camps are valuable to creating a skilled workforce because they remove the time barrier of a four-year degree, considering trainees may have childcare and other adult responsibilities.

Training programs have been established at Brunswick Community College and Cape Fear Community College with help from the collaborative. UNCW will offer more specialized tech programs in its new science and engineering college, according to Gillespie.

Dennison said, “Ideally, [Wilmington is] going to a place where our community has multiple and accessible career pathways for individuals, wherever they are in life, in their career, to take a step or two up an economic ladder."
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