February 18, 2010

Growing Technology Cluster Means Solving Workforce Issues

Chelsea Hadaway  /  Charleston Regional Business Journal

One of the growing pains of Charleston's transition to a knowledge-based economy is the need to find qualified, highly skilled workers to fill the new jobs. Although Charleston has developed a thriving and expanding technology cluster and a large contingent of defensebased companies, the area's public image and the skilled work force the cluster needs have yet to mirror that growth.

"People don't think about Charleston as an emerging technological destination," said Ernest Andrade, director of the Charleston Digital Corridor. People still tend to think of it only as a tourist destination, he said, and that hampers companies'ability to recruit top talent.

"One of the big issues was the perceived lack of other technical companies here," said Erin Scheffer, director of human resources at eThority. She has also worked at Blackbaud as a recruiting manager. "I couldn't market Charleston alone," she said.

As Andrade heard other companies echoing those sentiments, he and the Digital Corridor decided to work with them to create a Web portal that would pull together the knowledge-based economy for a collective recruiting effort.

CharlestonWorks.com, the fruits of that effort, was launched in January. The number of companies on the list tops 130.

Prior to the CharlestonWorks initiative, the city lacked a central place to show off all the industry in the sector, Andrade said. He estimated the list will get close to 180 once all the companies are added.

More than three dozen listed companies are hiring, and the site includes links to their human resources Web pages.

The Web site is dual-purpose: It acts as a recruiting tool for companies and it connects job seekers in Charleston with high-tech jobs.

"We need to attract technical talent and let them know there's more than justone or two high-tech companies here," said Winston Helena, staff recruiter for Life Cycle Engineering, a consulting, engineering and applied technology firm that does work with the Department of Defense.

Currently, the company has about six job openings listed for its Charleston office, including a software engineer and a business development coordinator.

Scheffer said she appreciates having a portal to which she can direct potential employees –- whether they are a fit for the company or not. She said she can direct potential candidates to the Web site and give them the tools to understand the high-tech community in Charleston.

"The idea is to get them here and keep them here," she said. "It's expensive to relocate people."

People are less mobile than in the past, and the knowledge economy is maturing, so the portal creates a confluence of information for current employees already in Charleston.

"People don't have to move away to find another high-tech job," Andrade said. "We have upward mobility in the high-tech industry here now."

The Web site doesn't downplay the networking aspect of finding a job but enhances it, Helena said, helping further expand the site's potential reach.

In addition to the company listings and employee resources, the site has a private portal for employers to connect and share information. The private area will have categories including recruitment, benefits and employee development.

The Digital Corridor is currently working on a national campaign to attract talented job seekers from outside of Charleston. Although some companies might hesitate, because the collaboration highlights their competition, Helena said it's better to show and promote the overall value of Charleston.

"This is bringing the totality of what we have to offer as a city," Helena said.