UM Launches Initiative to Prepare Workforce for High-Tech Industry

October 28, 2019

UM News Service

MISSOULA – Today, University of Montana President Seth Bodnar joined with strategic partners to launch the Tech Skills for Tomorrow Initiative, an effort aimed at providing education and training to address the high-tech workforce needs of Montana businesses.

Bodnar invited several collaborators to the launch, including Amazon Web Services, Montana High Tech Business Alliance, Missoula Economic Partnership the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. Local tech companies such as ATG-Cognizant, Submittable and LumenAd also attended the luncheon and took part in the conversation about addressing workforce demands in the tech industry.

“Montana faces a unique challenge in that our state faces a worker shortage and, at the same time, an emerging tech sector in one of the most vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems in the country,” said Bodnar. “Missoula College and the University of Montana have an important role to play in addressing this challenge, and Tech Skills for Tomorrow is an important framework for our response.”

Michael Punke, vice president for global public policy with Amazon Web Services, speaks during the Tech Skills for Tomorrow Initiative launch event on Monday at Missoula College.Michael Punke, vice president of public policy for Amazon Web Services, noted the pace at which new technologies are transforming the business model for companies across every sector and the need for a highly skilled workforce.

“Amazon Web Services is committed to training workers for today and for the future,” he said. “We’re excited to partner with innovative institutions like the University of Montana and Missoula College to help their students get good-paying jobs.”

Galen Hollenbaugh, commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, attended the launch event and expressed optimism about the potential for addressing workforce shortages in Montana’s tight labor market.

“We’re partnering with the Montana University System to offer support for degree completion, technical training and apprenticeships,” he said. “We see our university system as integral to providing the highly skilled workforce Montana needs now and will increasingly need in the future.”

The Tech Skills for Tomorrow Initiative is based on programs, partnerships, pathways and pipelines. Bodnar described the approach further: “To build the pipeline of talent that this state needs to grow, we not only need to have the right programs in place, we need to have strong partnerships with employers here in Montana and globally, as well as a diverse set of pathways for students to access learning.”

The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a strategic partner in Tech Skills for Tomorrow. Executive Director Christina Henderson said that according to surveys conducted by UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, high-tech industry jobs are in high demand and, on average, pay twice the median wage in Montana.

“The launch of Tech Skills for Tomorrow is the continuation of an important discussion between local tech companies and the University of Montana, which began with a roundtable meeting last fall,” Henderson said. “A shortage of skilled talent is the No. 1 barrier to growth cited by Montana high-tech and manufacturing companies for five consecutive years. This initiative marks a huge leap forward in taking action to address the workforce gap.”

Missoula Economic Partnership Executive Director Grant Kier noted that Missoula employers have urgent needs for workers with technical skills.

“Missoula employers have expressed that industry-specific skills are a significant challenge when recruiting talent to meet the rapidly changing needs of our burgeoning tech economy,” Kier said. “This initiative is a holistic response to address the needs of Missoula’s tech sector businesses while creating pathways to meaningful employment for people seeking them in our community.”

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Contact: Paula Short, UM communications director, 406-243-5806, paula.short@umontana.edu.