The writer is a professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Information Science & Technology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Across the nation, the urgent call for talented information technology professionals does not match the number of qualified IT professionals available, paving the way for an unprecedented talent gap.

Omaha alone has an average of 1,000-plus open IT positions at any given time. Every time I talk to chief information officers in the area, their primary concern is that there is not enough IT talent. In fact, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce recently announced that our region is expected to add 5,900 jobs yearly, and 9 percent of those are expected to be in IT.

Despite these job prospects, reports that across the United States, fewer than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a computer science degree, a number that has decreased in the last decade.

The outlook for a diverse IT national workforce is even bleaker. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, only 25 percent of IT workers are women, compared with 57 percent of the overall workforce. Furthermore, a recent survey of nine major U.S. tech companies’ demographic data showed that minorities accounted for just a “tiny fraction” of most of their workforces.

A diverse pool of talented IT professionals is essential for Omaha to maintain an economically sound, inspiring and growing community. There’s a chance to invite more individuals to the field, and to ensure that women and other under-represented groups have opportunities to pursue their career aspirations in high-paying fields.

In order to create a robust IT ecosystem, we must create opportunities for those interested in IT — not a recruitment battlefield where companies trade employees.

Knowing all this, what can we do?

It is vital that we grow talent locally and build from the ground up. Still in the shock waves from ConAgra’s uprooting from the metro area and moving to “hipper” pastures, this is our wake-up call to attack the misconception that Omaha does not have the required talent.

At the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Information Science and Technology, we work with area organizations to ensure that our educational model fits their needs and to learn how we can create more opportunities for students.

This collaboration helps us understand the IT requirements of the local community and builds a strong understanding of the opportunities and programs available here.

Our work goes beyond the traditional classroom setting. We offer unique informal learning programs such as CodeCrush, the region’s largest initiative inviting eighth- and ninth-grade girls to experience IT. There’s the IT Innovation Cup, which features area high school students competing and learning to innovate and develop technological solutions to societal problems. We offer summer workshops for 11- to 16-year-olds, after-school programs for middle school kids in Omaha Public Schools, teacher development and graduate IT education programs in computing, and much more.

Within the college, we host mentorship programs for women, support student-run organizations for our five majors, and offer research and work opportunities on “real” projects that expand upon lessons learned in the classroom.

It is imperative that our community’s businesses and leaders not only focus on the urgency of creating an IT talent pool, but also be an active investor in creating a robust IT talent pipeline. Without the direct support of the Omaha business community, many of our programs simply do not have the capacity to continue. We must ensure all students interested in IT have opportunities to develop their full potential.

We know that a healthy, vibrant IT workforce is needed for a community to be attractive to talented individuals and encourage companies to relocate and stay.

We also know that IT is becoming the essential ingredient in the success of all organizations and can have lasting impacts on our society — some in ways we don’t yet know.

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