By Shannon Furniss for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance
The students’ rural-area background – and the experience with helping on ranch and farm operations – is relevant business experience. In addition they have a great work ethic and “it’s easy to teach someone like that tech.”
– From a conversation with Tim Black, Executive Officer, Helix Business Solutions in Dillon
Technology boot camps and training programs are springing up around Montana to address the #1 barrier to growth for the state’s high tech and manufacturing firms: finding skilled technology workers.
By featuring these innovative programs discussed at our recent CEO Roundtable in Bozeman, we hope to help members share best practices in the state and also help potential tech employees find the path to high-paying jobs in Montana.
Helix Business Solutions Creates Boot Camps to Grow and Train Top Talent in Montana
In the fall of 2013, Travis Cottom, a fourth-generation Dillon resident and executive at Helix Business Solutions, decided to move back home and open Helix’s first Montana office in his hometown. After outgrowing the first office he opened in Dillon, Cottom moved the operation to the historic Mary Innes School building where he, his father, and his grandfather had gone to kindergarten. Based in Memphis, Helix Business Solutions – the Oracle Cloud Partner of the Year (2014) – now has two locations in Montana. The second office opened in Bozeman this summer.
In an effort to train talent in rural areas that are not traditionally known for technology, Helix partnered with the University of Montana Western to create a series of tech boot camps. The boot camps are a week-long, fast-paced immersion into the concepts, features, and capabilities that surround the implementation of Oracle’s Service Cloud platform.
The connection with University of Montana Western is important, according to Helix’s Executive Officer Tim Black. Helix is able to pick some of the “best and brightest” from Western and teach them technology skills. The students’ rural-area background – and the experience with helping on ranch and farm operations – is relevant business experience, Black said. In addition they have a great work ethic and “it’s easy to teach someone like that tech.” The boot camps also serve as a pathway to internships and maybe later, to full-time jobs, he said.
“We give them a week-long education for free,” Black said. “If they can put in a week, they’re serious. It’s sort of like a week-long interview.”
According to Beth Weatherby, the chancellor at Western, the “boot-camp partnership with Helix is exactly the kind of team effort we need to promote in order to keep higher education and high-tech businesses healthy.”
With a computer science degree from Montana Tech and many years of experience working for software companies like Zoot Enterprises in Bozeman, Kevin McManus and his wife, Leeanne, decided to start their own company, ikuw Solutions. Leeanne, president of ikuw, specializes in real-world technology solutions and human resources.
Since opening ikuw Solutions, Kevin McManus, the company’s vice president of technology services, has realized that good developers don’t necessarily need four-year computer science degrees to get jobs. And many Montanans who would like to work in technology can’t afford to go back to school for a four-year+ degree program. So ikuw has created a certification program that fills that need.
Ikuw, which provides software training, technical training, and professional development services in its Missoula and Helena locations and online, recently developed an entry-level developer certification program that will provide participants with a solid foundational basis in software development in about three months. After that time, participants should be ready to be placed with employers.
One benefit ikuw offers participants and their employers is continued access to training. For example, if participants get into the workforce and decide they need a refresher, they can come back and repeat the class.
“We can feed the pipeline and then they can get mentoring from senior developers,” McManus said.
Ikuw also offers an entry-level network administrator certification.
For more information, go to www.getikuw.com or contact ikuw staff at 844-GET-IKUW or email@example.com.
The demand for tech workers is growing at an increasing rate, and Montana CTOs say that they would hire 50+ people tomorrow at $70k-$100k+ per year if they could find the talent. Paul Gladen, director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana, said he frequently gets requests from businesses to help him find app developers, but struggles to find anyone. “The developer talent pool in Montana is already tapped out.”
The Montana Code School is a community-driven initiative designed to expand the pipeline of programming talent available to Montana businesses by taking individuals with little or no programming skills and developing them into junior developers. The code school will launch its first 12-week program in September and offer at least four more sessions in 2016. The pilot program fees are $6,000, with scholarships and loan financing available.
“Graduates of the program will have the opportunity to pursue high-paying career opportunities with Montana businesses for an attractive return on investment,” said Gladen.
The Montana Code School team hopes they can add 100 new programmers to the Montana coder talent pool in 2016.
For more information, go to http://montanacodeschool.com/ or e-mail the Montana Code School team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spika Design Taps Unlikely Sources for Manufacturing Talent
People sometimes make assumptions about manufacturing – that the work is dirty, physically demanding, and perhaps unfit for women. But Tom Spika, CEO of Spika Design and Manufacturing, is trying to dispel those notions (and solve the company’s hiring problems) by giving people a taste of what manufacturing is really like.
In Lewistown, Spika has spearheaded a workforce development course series with the support of the Lewistown Job Service, Rev Up Montana, and Montana State University Northern. The goal of offering the courses is to equip the local workforce with an introductory manufacturing skillset, including knowledge in manufacturing safety, industrial math, blueprint training, and practical hands-on assembly experience.
The first Manufacturing 101 course series ran for three Saturdays during July and August and included students from a variety of backgrounds and skillsets, according to Bekhi Spika, director of marketing at Spika. Class sizes ranged from 12 to 16 students, and a handful of them were high school students, retirees, and women. The cost was $40.
“We wanted to reach into all corners of our workforce to show people that manufacturing is a viable career option in Central Montana,” said Spika’s marketing director.
And with Spika Design’s upcoming expansion, the company will need more employees. In fact, one student that just completed the training program is already working at Spika part time, said Bekhi Spika.
Fueling the Tech Sector and Creating High-Paying Jobs
The growing number of technology boot camps and training programs around Montana will help expand the tech talent pool and address the immediate need among companies for skilled tech workers. In addition to helping fuel the state’s high-tech sector, these innovative programs will also create high-paying jobs.
“We take people who have the aptitude and train them,” Tom Spika said. “This allows people with low-paying jobs to work toward high-paying jobs that provide insurance.”
Photo Caption for Top Image: Students in the recent Manufacturing 101 course held by Spika Design and Manufacturing in Lewistown learn how to apply their knowledge to a hands-on project – manufacturing a simple step-stool. Spika spearheaded a workforce development course series with the support of the Lewistown Job Service, Rev Up Montana, and Montana State University Northern.
About the Author: Shannon Furniss is a Missoula-area journalist and communications specialist. Ms. Furniss is currently the communications director at the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research and the editor of the Montana Business Quarterly. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 200 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at: www.MTHighTech.org.