Using data to grow Nebraska’s tech workforce

Using data to grow Nebraska’s tech workforce

In order to grow the tech workforce in Nebraska, we need to understand more about who the current tech workers are. The soon-to-be-launched Nebraska Tech Workforce Dashboard will provide a detailed look at the state’s tech talent that anyone can access.

Stefanie Monge via Silicon Prairie News • June 28, 2023

NTC Data Project

Nebraska’s tech leaders are mounting an effort to grow their workforce – an effort they say could pad the wallets of potential employees and the state itself.

Around 50,000 Nebraskans – roughly 5% of the state’s total workforce – are already employed in technology occupations, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bureau of Business Research. These tech workers earn 60% more than the average Nebraskan while working in organizations that span industries.

So attracting more Nebraskans to work in tech, especially those from groups currently underrepresented in high-paying jobs, presents a significant opportunity to economically impact the state, tech leaders say. 

“A strong tech workforce and employer network are crucial to the growth and prosperity of any state, and Nebraska is no exception,” said Nebraska Tech Collaborative executive director Shonna Dorsey.

Growing Nebraska’s tech workforce is the primary goal of a new project launched by the NTC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs. NTC recently formed a data advisory group, composed of research and data experts, to create a new dashboard that they say will serve as a source of reliable and timely data on the technology workforce in Nebraska. 

“Working together, we will leverage reliable data sources to support the decision-making needs of stakeholders throughout the state, with a focus on advancing high-impact initiatives that increase diversity and retention of highly skilled candidates,” Dorsey said. “We know that our collaborative efforts will be instrumental in building a robust tech workforce that meets the needs of today and tomorrow.”

Dr. Josie Schafer, director of UNO’s  Center for Public Affairs Research , said that current data on Nebraska’s tech workforce lacks crucial demographic information as well as information about how workers are entering the tech pipeline. In order to grow the tech sector, Dr. Schafer said, we need to learn more about those working in it.

Schafer said the low number of Nebraskans working in tech translates to a big growth opportunity, which would in turn advance both innovation and consumption power in the state.

Even in geographic areas with higher rates of participation in the tech workforce, like Massachusetts, expanding the demographics of folks entering the pipeline is a primary way to grow the workforce, Schafer said.

The Nebraska Tech Workforce Dashboard will be publicly available and free for anyone to access. The data feeding the dashboard will be compiled from a variety of self-reported sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, and will focus specifically on occupation. For the purposes of this dashboard, occupation is defined as the job you work in and industry is what your business actually does.

The dashboard will present a general picture of who is in the tech workforce now in order to think about how to start programs and policies to attract those not currently engaged, Schafer said. The unique set of data will enable stakeholders and policymakers to decide how and where they can make the most impact.

For example, women are underrepresented in high wage jobs, including tech, but overrepresented in getting bachelors degrees, Schafer said. That’s because women are choosing majors that don’t lead to these high paying jobs. Perhaps college is too late to be making that choice, said Schafer, who thinks Nebraska needs to be supporting high-wage opportunities in STEM well before higher education. 

“When I’m doing the research, I’m learning so much,” Schafer said. “When I create a dashboard, I actually recreate that experience for you because as you’re interacting with it you’re gaining insights. Maybe insights that I didn’t see or didn’t occur to me right away. You get to recreate that learning process.”

Schafer added that when people learn from and engage with information in a format like a dashboard they are more likely to develop an understanding that spurs them to take action.

“So that’s how we move forward.”

Currently Schafer is working with the data advisory committee to collect feedback and help make the data more user friendly. The group also seeks to understand how Nebraska compares to other geographic areas in order to identify trends and learning opportunities. Also to establish benchmarks to measure progress against.

Different data sources have different pros and cons, Schafer said, so the group will blend a mix of sources to help tell the full story.

Job openings are one way to analyze how the workforce is changing. Schafer said she is currently in discussions with LinkedIn to explore how the platform’s data could be used to validate some of the insights provided by the dashboard.

The dashboard should be available sometime this fall, perhaps as early as September.

The group is seeking feedback throughout the process and after the dashboard launches to make it usable for all. They are currently interested in collecting use cases, data sources and ideas from the community to inform their work. You can submit feedback to the data advisory group here.

And you can see a replay of the NTC webinar announcing the project here.