Archive for Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lawrence workforce needs technology boost, experts say

November 1, 2011


While the U.S. economy struggles with stagnant GDP, sluggish personal income and tanking consumer confidence, Lawrence’s economy has its own technical issues to deal with.

Like making its workforce more technical.

A crowd of about 150 people at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 Economic Forecast Breakfast on Tuesday was told that area educators need to do a bit more to help boost the local economy in the future.

“If we are going to have an economy based on high-tech businesses, we have to make sure we have a workforce that is compatible,” said Charles Krider, a Kansas University business professor and presenter at the conference. “We’re not quite there yet.”

Ron Guerin, operations manager for Lawrence-based Computerized Assessments & Learning, said his company is an example of a firm that is struggling to find high-tech employees. The company develops computerized solutions for scoring a variety of standardized tests.

The 35-employee company recently expanded into the space formerly occupied by the Lawrence Athletic Club on East 23rd Street, and is looking for six computer engineers with a very specific set of skills. Guerin said such engineers are plentiful in India, and his company is seriously contemplating outsourcing the unfilled engineering position to an Indian firm.

“I’m afraid we’re very close to the point of creating a half-dozen software development jobs, but not for the local economy but rather for the Indian economy,” said Guerin, who said the company has been recruiting for the positions for about two years.

Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said Lawrence’s highly educated workforce is a strength for the community. But she said local leaders are working to train future employees on the specific skills needed by Lawrence employees. Johnson said the school district is working with Johnson County Community College to develop specific “career pathways” for high school students to explore. Johnson said opportunities exist for Kansas University and other education providers to partner with the Kansas Department of Commerce to create custom-tailored training programs for specific employers.

Also at the conference, Michael Davern, a vice president of Chicago-based Nuveen Investments, said despite the negative tone of the national media, he was cautiously optimistic that the economy would not fall back into recession.

“If you go through all this news, you’ll be so depressed that you’ll be looking for your therapist,” Davern said. “The only thing I haven’t mentioned is that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012.”

Davern said data on personal income, personal spending, business investment and weekly jobless claims are all stronger than they were during the recession. Data derived from surveys — such as the Consumer Confidence Index — have been negative, Davern said. He thinks consumers are feeling more negative then they actually are acting.

“There are a lot of negatives out there in the press, but the data does not show we’re in a recession,” Davern said. “But we are at a really important time. We can take these numbers and move forward or we can fade back.”

The event was part of the chamber’s revamped Lawrence Business Expo, which features booths from about 80 area companies at the Lawrence Holiday Inn.


Paul R Getto 6 years, 7 months ago

Toe: Good point. IKE warned us about the Military Industrial Complex. The TIC (Testing Industrial Complex) is also a problem. Tests are useful to a point, but in the long run they probably only really benefit one group: those who hold stock in testing development and administration companies.

Liberty275 6 years, 7 months ago

I make 66% more per hour because I passed some tests.

cowboy 6 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Guerin , If you cannot recruit in this environ you either

are not recruiting pay crap or have a crap business

one of the three or maybe all

Mr_Missive 6 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Guerin is correct. No one wants to drive from OP to work in Lawrence. And no one in Lawrence is qualified. The sooner Lawrence figures this out the better. Don't blame the employer. Try to find a good programmer in Lawrence and you will move to OP.

saoirseglen 6 years, 7 months ago

I would like to know what those "computer engineers with a very specific set of skills" need to know that they cannot find in Topeka, Lawrence or the Kansas City metro area. From the story I am not certain if they are talking about hardware engineers, software engineers or some other kind of information technology engineer. Given the rough economy I find it very hard to believe that they cannot find anyone in the United States if they have been looking for two years.

How exactly did they start their company if they could not find engineers? I think it might be more that they are wanting an excuse not to hire people here and want to offshore. It might also be as well that they want someone with such a narrow, specialized set of skills that they are not willing to find someone who could quite likely transfer their skills to the new work requirements.

I am hypothesizing based on personal experiences and the current job environment.

Liberty275 6 years, 7 months ago

How on earth does India have more computer engineers with specific skills than America?

Maybe we do deserve our third-world future.

SteamPunque 6 years, 7 months ago

Here is a link to the positions Computerized Assessments & Learning is seeking to fill:

The technical skill requirements in the posted position descriptions are not particularly unusual for a software developer or engineer, and I find it quite surprising that CAL is unable to identify a substantial number of suitable candidates in the Kansas City-Topeka metropolitan area.

I can only assume that CAL is simply unwilling to pay market value for the skills they need, which leads me to suspect that the "very specific set of skills" Mr. Guerin seeks in an engineering candidate involve the willingness to perform software engineering work at bargain wage rates.

As Mr. Guerin states, "such engineers are plentiful in India".

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