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State Action Needed to Boost Oregon Talent Pipeline, Portland Business Journal (4/15/2015)

As published in the Portland Business Journal, April 15, 2015.

by Joanna Lee

Last week, I joined 48 volunteer advocates who convened in Salem to garner legislators’ support for initiatives to grow the state’s tech talent pipeline and provide coordinated support for strengthening the cyber capabilities of our state’s government and businesses.

Our contingent consisted mostly of senior executives of Oregon tech companies, ranging from early-stage startups such as PrestoBox to large established companies such as Hewlett Packard.  We met with more than 70 legislators on an individual basis in a series of 10 30-minute meetings. The Tech Association of Oregon organized this advocacy effort as its 3rd annual “Tech Day in Salem.” As an attorney who represents Oregon tech companies, I joined this effort to provide another perspective and voice regarding the issues that keep my clients up at night.

Two messages resounded throughout the day.

First, difficulty finding local tech talent is a major obstacle to growing a business in Oregon. There are over 2,500 tech-related job openings in the Portland area alone, and not enough Oregonians with the right skills to fill them. This reflects a growing chasm between industry needs and the skills being taught by our state’s universities, community colleges, and vocational training schools.

House Bill 2728 seeks to close that gap by establishing the Oregon Talent Council (OTC), a majority of whose members will consist of representatives of high growth industries. The OTC will identify unmet talent needs and collaborate with and provide funding to higher education institutions to develop and expand programs that will arm Oregonians with the skills needed to fill these talent gaps. OTC will replace and absorb the Engineering and Technology Industry Council (ETIC), whose proven success has made it a model for similar programs in other states. OTC will expand and apply the ETIC model not only to high tech, but to other rapidly growing industries with demands for tech talent, including energy, manufacturing, health care, food processing, and agriculture.

Second, coordinated support is needed to strengthen the cyber capabilities of our government and businesses. House Bill 2996 would establish an Oregon Center of Cyber-Excellence to coordinate cyber education, share cyber-expertise, disseminate best practices, and facilitate cyber-security research. Oregon is one of only five states that does not have such a center, and the lack of statewide coordination has made it difficult for our universities to obtain cybersecurity grants for research and education.

Both HB 2728 and HB 2996 have received broad bipartisan support and are now in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, the legislature’s appropriations committee. Our present challenge and task is to help our legislators understand that the Oregon Talent Council and the Oregon Center of Cyber-Excellence are funding priorities because they are critical to economic growth, creation of employment opportunities for Oregonians, and protection of Oregonians’ personal information.