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Report shows the St. Louis region’s tech workforce is growing but lacks diversity

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Harris-Stowe State University
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Harris-Stowe State University students study STEM initiatives with St. Louis University's Taylor Geospatial Institute this past summer. A recent report by TechSTL shows that Black people make up about 8% of St. Louis' tech workforce. Researchers say tech companies need to provide access to STEM education to break down barriers to entering the industry.

The number of tech jobs in the St. Louis region grew during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, but the industry still lacks workforce diversity, according to a report by the technology group TechSTL.

The community technology foundation published the IT Labor Market Report last week to examine the region’s tech workforce. Prepared by Lindenwood University’s Center for Applied Economics, the report aims to offer suggestions to bolster the area’s tech industry.

“This was the first place that we needed to start with in order for tech in St. Louis to really get up off the ground and start taking strides in the areas that we know that we need to be active in to serve the community,” said Emily Hemingway, executive director of TechSTL.

There are about 86,000 tech workers in the region, the report found. They include computer and info systems managers, data scientists, market research analysts and graphic designers. But the report notes that some workers are underpaid.

During the pandemic, the region’s tech sector was not hit as hard as other industries because companies needed more technology support workers. More people worked from home, and more companies needed assistance with technology-based products to run their businesses.

“I think what remains to be seen is the effect of working from home, because a lot of tech occupations are very mobile,” said Howard Wall, director of Lindenwood University’s Center for Applied Economics. “Whereas tech support, you really need to be on site and helping people.”

Historically, the tech industry has largely employed white men. The report notes that the St. Louis region’s tech workforce is 67% male and 79% white. Black tech employees represent only 7.6% of the region’s tech workforce.

Hemingway said the industry should focus on early STEM education to encourage more Black students to enter the field.

“It's in the entire educational pipeline of how we're working with the area schools and addressing better access to STEM education, dropping the barriers to access and making it easier for people who are coming from historically excluded communities,” Hemingway said. “That [makes] it easier for them to get the higher-level training that they need to really navigate upward mobility.”

There are about 35,000 open tech positions in the region. TechSTL’s goal is to double the number of people in tech in the next five years. To do so, Hemingway said tech companies also should reach out to people in other industries who may have other skills but are willing to be trained for tech jobs.

The report notes that women make up about one-third of the region’s tech industry, which is slightly higher than the national average of women in tech. However, researchers say the industry needs to put greater effort into retaining and attracting women to the field.

Hiring more women and Black tech workers could help companies achieve gender and racial equity, said Cristina Garmendia, founder and principal of URBNRX consulting firm, who also helped prepare the report.

“If we were to address the gender and racial disparities that exist in the St. Louis tech scene today, we would have 15,000 more tech workers that are women. And we would have 8,000 more tech workers that are Black,” she said.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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