The tech industry in Colorado Springs is hot — private and public sector cybersecurity workers are in high demand, and developments such as the National Cybersecurity Center and Catalyst Campus continue to gain momentum and national attention.
But if Colorado Springs wants to attract more high-tech businesses, then science, technology, engineering and math education and technical degree programs must grow, because talent isn’t meeting demand, said Graym Sutz, branch manager of Blackstone Technology Group, which provides staff augmentation services in Colorado Springs.
“We have to be able to tell the story, knowing our clients and talking about the STEM programs at universities, Catalyst Campus and the NCC,” he said. “Hopefully it will grow things locally, and we ride those coattails because those companies need the talent. A lot of people want to be here, but they wonder how they’re going to grow their career in Colorado Springs.”
Companies must communicate the modern technology they’re using — such as cloud-based and open-source technologies — to attract outside business and talent, he said.
“We have to educate our clients on what they need to do to make that happen as far as how they interview people, how they attract people, with relocation packages and things like that.”
With the federal government restrictions making it harder to recruit technology workers abroad, Colorado Springs businesses need to invest internally, Sutz said.
“If the amount of technical talent coming into this country is limited, then companies have to build it from within,” he said, adding, “We have to grow our own workforce, whether it’s company leadership teaching staff or a business hiring a consultant.”
Every Department of Defense customer Blackstone works with is requesting security talent, Sutz said. Infrastructure positions such as desktop support, help desk, systems administration and network and software engineers are also in high demand.
“We’re probably working on 25 cyber positions right now,” he said. “Most of the skills I’m talking about, unemployment rates are at zero.”
He said STEM graduates can start out at $50,000 a year and within two years reach between $70,000 and $90,000.
“It’s amazing how much money you can make by taking the time to do some real work while you’re in school, getting the right degree from the right university and getting into the right job,” he said.
Filling engineering positions has also been a struggle, Sutz said, with a high demand for mechanical, electrical and aerospace engineers in Colorado Springs and a limited number of candidates.
“It’s equally as hard to find the engineering talent as it is the high-end technology talent,” he said.
UCCS has multiple programs and partnerships to expand STEM education. The university also acts as the state’s affiliate university for Project Lead the Way, a national program that teaches local educators about STEM curricula in the summer. And the Bachelor of Science in Engineering Education, launched in fall 2016, specifically targets the engineering skills gap.
It was created to equip students with technical expertise and teacher education training to teach in Colorado secondary schools and increase the number of professionals in STEM fields, said Peter Gorder, associate professor and chairman of the mechanical and aerospace engineering department.
It includes curriculum from the College of Engineering and Applied Science and College of Education, and is a unique degree, he said.
“Students go through all engineering curriculum and receive full teacher preparation training within four years,” Gorder said. “It’s an opportunity to really understand why this curricula is useful and how to communicate the opportunities to students.”
Valerie Martin Conley, dean of the UCCS College of Education, said most people don’t understand engineering as a discipline.
“When I talk to local school districts, it’s clear they want more — more STEM educators, particularly in our rural areas,” she said.
“There are some places where they are struggling to even get anyone in those core content math science areas. You add engineering, and there is very little in terms of individuals who would have that as their background, in terms of a teaching preparation.”