Does Arizona truly have a problem with attracting scientists and engineers to work at its high-tech companies?
We at Commercial Real Estate of Tucson occasionally hear that Arizona isn’t doing enough to attract qualified high-tech workers to the state. But maybe it’s not really that bad, at least in relation to other states.
We’ve spent some time digesting the results of “Arizona’s Technology Workforce: Issues, Opportunities and Competitive Pressures.” The study by the Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University was done on behalf of the Arizona Technology Council.
What we found exciting and heartening is that it may take only a few tweaks to make Arizona a top-tier location for attracting high-tech workers and the companies that hire them.
Technology Workforce Study Messages
The September 2011 study compiled survey results from 141 Arizona companies. They provided information about their experiences in hiring life and physical scientists, computer scientists and engineers. When asked how difficult was it to attract qualified technology workers,
- 53% said it was “somewhat difficult” to hire computer scientists
- 52% said it was “somewhat difficult” to hire engineers
- 87% said it was “somewhat difficult” to hire scientists other than computer scientists.
Not great results, to be sure. But it turns out that many of the problems are faced by companies everywhere, not just in Arizona. They include
- the sheer lack of qualified workers anywhere
- restrictions on hiring foreign workers for U.S. government contracts
- job candidates reluctant to move anywhere
- lack of interest among U.S. citizens to earn advance degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
It didn’t appear that Arizona’s high-tech companies were dissatisfied with the quality of high-tech grads from the state’s universities, only that the grads did not have the requisite experience or specialized skills for a particular employer.
Most recent hires came from within Arizona.
Arizona Economic Development
Companies in the survey mentioned one solution that we hear all the time: economic development in key high-tech industries. Industry concentration attracts potential employees who have a wealth of choices for work. It also gives companies a wealth of employees to choose from.
Some survey interviewees felt the state should publicize assets beyond sunshine, recreation and lifestyle. Companies need to hear about the University of Arizona’s excellent optics programs, for instance, and the state’s growing aerospace and defense industries. The state must deliver messages about its existing culture of innovation and collaboration to high-tech companies and government agencies.
Other Arizona Strategies
Some of the other suggestions from the study seem relatively minor if not necessarily easy for state officials to implement. They include
- changing perceptions about poor school systems. Companies have been able to convince job candidates that quality public and private schools do exist in the state.
- developing workforce training programs that focus on high-tech employers’ needs. Some programs do exist, but the state can do better about marketing them.
- getting more students interested in STEM fields of study.
- create university courses, experiences and connections that change students into qualified workers.
We think the study adds another voice encouraging both public and private sectors of the state to work toward better economic development, business incentives and messages that tell Arizona’s story about the great things companies can do when they move here.
What do you think?
Commercial Real Estate Group of Tucson specializes in representing tenants and corporate users across the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia as a member of ITRA. For more information call 520-299-3400.