Austin technology companies will add 9,000 jobs over the next five years — but only if the region can come up with new ways to develop and recruit new talent.
Building a sustainable high-tech labor force was a theme at Wednesday’s CEO Summit, a daylong gathering of 150 CEOs at ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
The event, sponsored by the Austin Technology Council, focused on the results of a new Technology Economic Impact Report, which was conducted by Austin economist Bryan Kelsey of Civic Analytics.
According to the report, technology employment is expected to grow by 9 percent, or 9,000 jobs, by 2017. But that could be threatened by a lag in talent availability.
There will be 2,400 openings for software developers between 2012 and 2017, and currently less than 25 percent could be filled with regional college graduates, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
The talent crunch is particularly challenging for startups and smaller companies, said Joel Trammell, chairman of the Austin Technology Council.
“Big companies have many places they can hire from, but it’s very hard for small companies to bring people into Austin because they just don’t have the resources,” he said. “Locally we can only produce a small portion of the talent we need. If everyone just ends up poaching from each other what it effectively does is limit growth.”
The goal behind the conference was to tackle issues facing Austin’s tech community, including workforce development, education and the availability of capital for startup companies.
Finding new ways to grow the talent base emerged as one of the most urgent needs. In a survey of 107 CEOs conducted by the technology council, more than three-fourths said they plan to increase hiring in 2013, with an average of 26 new hires in the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, 79 percent said it was somewhat or very difficult to find qualified technical staff. Attendees of the summit said skilled engineers and experienced product marketers are hardest to hire.
One idea being pursued by the technology council involves creating a separate organization that would recruit job candidates to Austin where they could interview with multiple companies at once.
“That would bring a pipeline of people interested in jobs in Austin directly to the companies,” Trammell said. “Maybe they would interview with five or six different small companies. The key is to bring job candidates here, because once they see Austin and what it has to offer, that hooks them.”
Also discussed was whether Austin startups are being held back by a lack of early-stage venture capital.
Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at the University of Texas and a startup mentor, said the issue in Austin is the quality of companies not the availability of capital.
“Is it that the money isn’t here or that the companies aren’t good enough,” Metcalfe said. “There is plenty of venture capital, out-of-town venture capitalists know how to fly. We need to focus on building better companies, and the money will be there.”
During his keynote address, Mike Maples, a former Austin software entrepreneur who now runs venture capital firm Floodgate in Silicon Valley, said that rather than comparing itself to Silicon Valley, Austin should focus on creating strong, industry-leading companies.
“We have everything we need right in our grasp. We have all the most powerful tools on earth; we just have to use them,” he said. “We need to find a set of people who dare to believe that we can create a cataclysmic, earth shaking, plate tectonic shifting, truly legendary company.”