For decades now, the constant evolution of technology has transformed every aspect of our lives. In fact, anywhere in the country, IT occupations are some of the fastest growing.
According to nonprofit trade association CompTIA, tech companies in the U.S. added 24,300 workers in January 2022, marking the 14th consecutive month of job growth. Unemployment rates within tech occupations dropped to 1.7%, down from 2% in December 2021.
It’s a staggering opportunity for anyone looking to launch a career — or switch to a different career — and it’s one that is certainly available to Westchester residents.
LOCAL COMPANIES NEED TALENT
Like many technology firms in Westchester, Progressive Computing is on the hunt for talent. The 27-person outsourced IT services company, based in Yonkers, is looking to fill three vacant technical support positions by the end of the year.
Given the competition for highly skilled technology pros, Robert Cioﬃ, chief operating oﬃcer and cofounder, is allowing plenty of time to find the right candidates. He’s looking for generalists with a broad range of technical capabilities. “Especially in this climate, it requires a lot of patience and fortitude to find the right people,” he says.
Cioﬃ is not alone in contending with the tech talent crunch, a nationwide problem exacerbated by the pandemic and the “Great Resignation.” Westchester is home to more than 1,000 companies that work in technology in some capacity, from health tech to IT, and many are facing similar challenges, according to Bridget Gibbons, director of economic development for the county.
“We as a county are going to do everything we can to assist with the growth of that sector,” says Gibbons. “One of the key challenges is we are competing against Facebook, Google, and Twitter, all of whom have oﬃces in the city.”
That raises the bar for local employers when it comes to paying competitively. Salaries for many tech jobs in the local area tend to be hefty. Senior web developers in White Plains generally command from $145,463 to $203,850 according to research by recruiter Robert Half & Associates. Software engineers here bring in $141,075 to $198,788. And IT systems security managers earn from $175,163 to $253,463.
Helping local employers stay competitive will be mission-critical to growing sectors like advanced manufacturing, for which the county has set up a task force. One plant owner recently told Gibbons she’s simply unable to find a software developer. “Her biggest challenge is she can’t hire people,” says Gibbons.
EMPLOYERS RECONSIDER NEED FOR 4-YEAR DEGREES
To address the tech talent gap, the county has been actively searching for an engineering school that would like to act as a partner, according to Gibbons.
“When you have a local engineering college, there’s a great ecosystem that develops where students do internships and get hired locally,” says Gibbons. “We’ll have better opportunities to attract the workforce if we have higher education focused on engineering.”
In the meantime, the county is relying on programs such as those offered by SUNY Westchester Community College (WCC) to help local residents get up to speed for entry-level tech jobs. WCC’s new White Plains Education and Training Center offers a cybersecurity bootcamp and entry-level help desk technician programs as part of its short-term training and education programs leading to certificates.
“They are being very nimble in offering programs to folks who may be part of the whole Great Resignation and decided they wanted to do something more substantive with their life,” says Gibbons. “They may have resigned from a job that was less than fulfilling.”
“In the tech sector, if you can demonstrate you have taught yourself or have the proficiency or aptitude, many times the four-year degree requirement is lessened.”
– Bridget Gibbons, Director of Economic Development, Westchester County
One trend that’s shaping workforce development in the county is employers’ increasing willingness to consider candidates who don’t have a four-year degree, Gibbons points out. At IBM, she notes, 50% of U.S. jobs are open to anyone who has the right skills or willingness to learn, providing additional opportunities for those who lack a BA or BS.
“That can be a real roadblock for many people,” says Gibbons. “In the tech sector, if you can demonstrate you have taught yourself or have the proficiency or aptitude, many times the four-year degree requirement is lessened. Many people in Westchester can’t afford to go to college, but they are smart and work really hard. We have an opportunity to get them onto the on-ramp for a meaningful and well-paying career.”
Another possibility for those searching for an on ramp into the tech sector: occupations that are in high demand but can be entered with an associate degree.
For many of the jobs we associate with the tech industry — computer programmers, software developers and computer systems analysts, who study an organization’s current computer systems and design ways to improve their eﬃciency — bachelor’s degrees are traditionally required.
But web developers, who create and maintain websites, do not necessarily require a four-year degree and can expect good job prospects, according to the New York State Department of Labor’s (DOL) occupational employment projections. Job openings in this field were expected to grow 8.3% in the Hudson Valley between 2018 and 2028, according to DOL. The median annual wage for web developers and digital designers — who develop, create, and test website layouts, functions, and navigation— is in the six figures in White Plains, according to Robert Half & Associates’ research.
Computer user support specialists (9.1% expected growth in the Hudson Valley) and computer network support specialists (13.8% expected growth) maintain computer networks and provide technical help to computer users, respectively. Neither occupation calls for a bachelor’s degree, but wages can be significant. Robert Half & Associates estimates that a support specialist can make between $64,800 for someone new to the role and $97,200 for an experienced worker.
Gibbons and others in the economic development sector have made it their mission to encourage local talent to apply for jobs like this locally, rather than automatically assuming all of the best jobs are based in New York City. “The challenge,” says Gibbons, “is to make them aware of the career and training opportunities that are available here in Westchester.”