Catch up quick: The Miami Tech Works Tech Talent Coalition officially launched on February 17 with a kick-off meeting attended by more than 125 local business, academic, and support partners who engaged in a workshop related to the local tech talent pipeline. From that, four workgroups were formed, which have started meeting: Diversity in Tech, Emerging Talent, Tech Skills Gap, and Small Business Capacity Building. Today, we are meeting some of the leaders in the Emerging Talent workgroup.
Alina Parbtani is Florida International University’s Director of Experiential Learning in Technology (ELT). ELT is an umbrella organization that encompasses upskilling, career pathways, micro-credentialing, lifelong learning, and competencies for the future workforce. Before taking the reins of ELT, she was the director of the Talent Development Network, focused on growing paid internships for students at FIU and six other Miami area universities. ELT is continuing with that work. “We’re focusing on paid internships, growing employer connections, and just moving the needle on retaining talent here in South Florida in the tech industry.”
Parbtani’s work at FIU dovetails so well with the mission and goals of the Emerging Talent workgroup of the Tech Talent Coalition that she and a couple of her colleagues enthusiastically joined the initiative. Growth in paid internships is one of the key outcomes she would be excited to see come out of the Tech Talent Coalition, a multi-faceted initiative being led by Terri-Ann Brown and supported by local universities and colleges, governments and tech community organizations to prime Miami’s tech pipeline and make sure our homegrown talent thrives in the tech economy.
“There is definitely a hesitancy from the employer to hire interns, specifically paid interns,” Parbtani says. “For the companies, we want to make sure that they have access and exposure to students and on the student end, I would like to see them being offered more career opportunities during their academic journey so upon graduation, they’re not lost in terms of finding a career or how to even network.”
She says an important part of the work is career readiness – making sure students know how to interview and network, that their LinkedIn profiles and resumes are up to date, etc., while they’re in school. Also key is additional access to employers and that employers have access to this talent earlier on for their companies “so they’re investing in our students while they are students,” Parbtani says.
In her view, a big challenge is access to employers. “There are convenings happening, but in terms of follow-up from these convenings it becomes a challenge… sometimes it feels like the purpose of why it’s happening and the intentionality gets lost.” And in terms of creating paid internships specifically for students, there is a lack of awareness about why it’s important to create paid internships, she says. “You know, a lot of our students already have jobs so for them to leave their jobs to go into an unpaid internship just does not make sense.”
To the companies, Parbtani says, “if you’re not investing in your talent, you’re not going to get quality talent.”
While she’s excited about the potential for Miami Tech Works, she reminds people that for it to be a success, everyone has to take responsibility. “Are you as an individual doing your part to make sure that you’re contributing towards this goal? We all need to take responsibility and do what we can at our levels.”
Veteran human resources executive Ken Finneran has also been on the ground floor of efforts to hire and grow tech talent. He is VP of Human Resources at eMed in Miami, and prior to that he held a similar position at Kaseya. In addition to those leadership roles at two Miami tech companies, he chaired the Technology Committee at the Miami-Dade Beacon Council. While at Kaseya he partnered with FIU and Miami Dade College to co-create tech talent recruiting and apprentice programs. “We found the students to be very well prepared for the demands of the modern workplace that is changing ever so quickly,” he says.
That’s why Finneran is excited to be part of the employer-led Tech Talent Coalition, where he serves as co-chair of the Emerging Talent workgroup. “We have had great success and still do here at eMed at finding that talent locally,” he says, but eMed is a 2 ½-year-old startup and “we didn’t have the luxury of hiring junior talent and developing that on our own. We needed those experienced individuals who could hit the ground running and could help build the organization and while we found those in the past, I think that was something that Miami has struggled with.”
eMed, a fast-growing leader in rapid access to on-demand virtual healthcare and headquartered in Miami, has 125 full-time employees, with about 110 of those based in South Florida. About 75 eMed team members hold tech jobs, for instance as developers, programmers, QA, and customer experience, Finneran says.
How can the Tech Talent Coalition make an impact? “One way is to raise awareness for companies overall that these opportunities exist to partner effectively with institutions, whether that is with colleges and universities or the coding boot camps, to get the talent that is readily available but also to upskill and reskill talent,” Finneran says. The TTC can also help companies like eMed build their own brands as talent leaders engaged in the ecosystem and premier partners for internships, apprenticeships, entry level jobs and even mid-level jobs, he adds.
Finneran would like to see the Tech Talent Coalition come up with a model that will help build the talent pipeline together with partners, to make companies aware of the talent available, and importantly, to serve as a differentiator when comparing Miami tech against other tech hubs nationally and internationally. “That may mean coming up with not just an education model, not just the apprenticeship, internship and hiring model, but also a type of coaching and mentoring model that would separate our Miami tech ecosystem from other ecosystems.”
“I think Miami is already known as one of the fastest growing and most entrepreneurial ecosystems and I think it has over the last 10 years really emerged thanks to diversity and inclusion,” he adds. “Now seeing the focus on technology as the growth engine for Miami, I think we’re only at the very beginning of what this ecosystem can deliver, and we are engaged to make that happen.”
Charles Irizarry, the other co-chair of the Emerging Talent workgroup, was also involved with Miami-Dade Beacon Council and was a part of that organization’s original workgroup that came up with the concept of Miami Tech Works, at that time a volunteer project.
When Terri-Ann Brown told him about her plans for Miami Tech Works over coffee a few months ago, he committed to help make it happen. “What [Miami Tech Works] has become now is a real supportive movement. I think the approach that we’re taking is the right approach — integrating the private sector very, very closely into this and trying to structure it so that we can take advantage of new hungry talent that wants to get into the field and basically be a highway for them into the positions.”
Irizarry, a software engineer and serial entrepreneur, is CEO of Brim & Co., a technology professional services company and venture studio that partners with enterprise companies and venture-backed startups to create, develop, and scale their robust ideas through technological innovation. Before that, he founded Strata.ai, a consulting, venture-building, and accelerated education firm focused on Data Science, AI and Extended Reality.
Irizarry says it has been difficult to find tech talent that actually has production experience. “What you learn in the classroom only takes you so far, and what’s great about this is that the professors and the educational leaders understand this, so does the private sector. The focus of the Tech Talent Coalition is to deliver that learned experience to this new talent so that they can hit the ground running effectively. I’m excited that we’re going to focus on closing that gap.”
He continues: “We’re going to have apprenticeships, we’re going to have paid internships, we’re going to have real products that they’re responsible for delivering to production, so that companies that are looking at the population of potential engineers that they can hire see that they’re much more experienced than in other locations.”
Before getting there, though, there’s groundwork to do, including spending time with the target customer – the private sector – and really understanding their hiring challenges and needs, and that’s the subject of the next workgroup meeting, Irizarry says. “Once we have that clearly defined, then we’re going to be much better equipped to defining what’s the best solution to bring all this potential talent to these employers.”
The end goal? Higher job numbers. “I want accountability all the way through, including myself. The KPIs that we’re aiming for are higher job numbers, and the job numbers that we want to count are the jobs over $100,000 or $120,000 a year,” he says.
Irizarry calls the Tech Tech Coalition “an amazing A team” — with resources. “I think this is something that 10 years from now people will say ‘that was a pivotal thing, that was a catalyst’.”
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