Tech Experts Address Need to Attract and Retain Talent in Northeast Ohio

WARRENSVILLE HTS. — What’s the best way to attract technology talent to Cleveland? According to Lev Gonick, the CEO of OneCommunity, the city should take advantage of its “grittiness” because “one of the industries attracted to grittiness is tech.”

Gonick was one of four panelists at the Oct. 1 Amplify Speaker Series luncheon at Corporate College East. With much of the discussion dedicated to attracting and retaining talent in the technology sector, the panelists and facilitator Joy Roller presented their thoughts to approximately 80 attendees.

Roller, the president of Global Cleveland, said there is one thing that all employers can do to attract talent. “Hire an international student for at least their first 12 months out of school. They can be employed during that time. If they’re in a STEM program, they can stay for another 17 months. That’s a whole 29 months,” she said. “If that employee is someone you want to invest in, then go through the H-1B (visa) process. It costs not that much money — a couple thousand dollars — but these are the best and the brightest (students). We have over 7,000 international students that come to our colleges and universities, but federal law says they must leave unless they are sponsored by an employer. You can employ these kids.”

Not that Northeast Ohio’s existing talent is lacking, according to Ashley Basile Oeken, the executive director of Engage! Cleveland. “I’m all for bringing immigrants here, but I have a list of young professionals that are trying to find positions that can’t find them in this area,” she said. “Bringing more business here, bringing more people here, bringing more jobs and creating more opportunities — everybody has to be all in it and be risk averse.”

Kevin Goodman, the managing director and partner with BlueBridge Networks, praised the Northeast Ohio Regional Information Technology Engagement (NEO RITE) Board, a collaboration of senior IT executives who are committed to advancing the regional IT industry. Specifically, he lauded the organization’s workforce development and training efforts. “Education is K through 12, it’s higher ed. But with technology, it’s so dynamic, it’s so diverse. There is indeed a workforce development fervor that, quite frankly, is of gigantic proportions,” he said. “We not only are bridging the skill gap, but we’re also going into that pipeline of K through 12, going into all of those schools, saying this is how terrific (technology) is. It’s an opportunity.”

Gonick said the local community should take advantage of a “huge opportunity” to train women in coding. “One of the things that is happening on the coast right now that we would do well to follow before we fall too far behind is investing in young girls — on the way to becoming women — in coding,” Gonick said. “It is the lingua franca of the next century — coding (and) actually knowing how to create app support. Left to nature, it will not happen. Women will not actually become coders. This will be one way at looking at the digital divide of the future.”

Dan Young, the founder of DXY, said he is “overly optimistic” about Cleveland’s place in technology, but there are still many challenges to address. “While we’re looking at immigrants, and we’re looking at young professionals, and we’re looking at tech people, we still have to be realistic about this and look at how can we advance our entire culture and our entire community,” he says, “because in the long run that will be the biggest benefit of all.”