Getting With the Programs: San Diego Schools and Others Make Group Effort to Create Local Talent Pipeline

San Diego area universities and companies are stepping up their efforts to help meet the growing demand for tech workers

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San Diego’s got talent. Large tech firms Apple Inc. and Teradata Corp. cited it as the main draw when they announced plans to open new offices in the area, and a host of startups have also relocated down the coast, in hopes of being able to attract more workers.

With UC San Diego, San Diego State University, and other major institutions in town, San Diego has roughly 10,000 graduates in the tech and biotech sectors, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. But it’s still not enough.

Area universities and companies are stepping up their efforts to help meet the growing demand for tech workers. The number of tech openings in the region is expected to grow to 20,000 per year by 2028. And even with thousands of engineering graduates per year, tech-heavy companies are still working with shortages for skills that are in high demand.

“The one key area that the whole high-tech industry struggles with getting is software development with specialties around cloud computing, cybersecurity and data analytics,” said Brad Cook, global vice president for talent acquisition at Teradata. “Companies want to move everything to a cloud environment. There are literally more jobs than there are people.”

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Talent Development

Though recruiting for competitive skills is difficult, especially when it comes to newer technologies, Cook said it has improved as more companies call San Diego home.

“It’s getting easier than it was a year or so ago,” he said. “A while ago, there weren’t that many tech firms in San Diego. If someone wants to move, they want to make sure they have multiple opportunities.”

Cook said Teradata works heavily with local universities and internship programs to develop future talent. It also has been partnering with groups like the San Diego EDC to help recruit for its more immediate openings, which run the gamut from finance to marketing to engineering.

“Trying to move someone from Boston right now is probably a little bit easier for us than it was a little while ago,” he said. “It is still challenging to bring people from the Bay Area.”

Getting San Diego on the Map

That was the crux of the EDC’s “San Diego Life Changing” campaign, which launched two years ago to help draw experienced tech and life sciences talent to the area. Before starting the campaign, San Diego EDC Marketing Manager Bernadine Locsin said they had identified mid-level management for tech and life sciences companies as the biggest gap in the workforce.

“We’re really looking to attract and retain STEM talent with five to 15 years of experience,” Locsin said.

Companies can recruit aggressively by highlighting the growing cluster of interesting tech companies in San Diego, the opportunity to do meaningful work, and of course, the beach. But it still won’t be enough to fill all of their needs.

“We can’t just attract all of the talent that we need. We have some so many STEM occupations that are currently unfilled,” said Eduardo Velasquez, research manager for the San Diego EDC. “We have to look inward and see how we can develop our own talent right in our backyard.”

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Working With Jacobs School

UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering is a reflection of local companies’ hunger for talent. Annually, the Jacobs School graduates between 2,700 and 2,900 engineers into the tech industry.

Since he was recruited from UC Berkeley to lead the school six years ago, Dean Albert Pisano has hired 92 engineering faculty. The Jacobs School’s graduate program has also doubled during that time.

“I feel I was offered a position here because everyone wanted to see the school accelerate and achieve all we can achieve,” Pisano said. “Industries love having a large, relevant, progressive school in their backyard. That’s the kind of place that can generate the talent flow that they’re hungry for.”

Building a Curriculum Around Need

Three times per month, Pisano meets with a corporate affiliates board consisting of more than 70 local companies to hear what skills and experience they need the most. He has used that feedback to build a curriculum for systems engineering and experiential engineering, to help fill skills that many tech firms seek.

In addition to technical knowledge and hands-on experience, Pisano said many companies are looking for soft skills, such as students that have experience in leadership, have an entrepreneurial bent, or are good at thinking out of the box.

“At the very highest level, this huge group of companies is looking to the engineering school to hire a diverse group of talented individuals who can disrupt and innovate from within their own companies,” he said. “That is a tough bill to fill.”

Cultivating Local Talent

At CSU San Marcos, the university is launching two new engineering degrees to support the need for tech workers in north San Diego County. The university launched a degree in software engineering, and is launching an electrical engineering program this fall. 

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