“I think we can do some outreach currently, train coders and other things that can be done post-graduation,” Abernathy said. “But it is an effort by all of our educational institutions to load the track and then be successful in transferring skills to minorities that are in demand in the science and innovation areas.”
Universities and companies alike are already committed to increasing diversity, Kevin Jeffay, chairperson of the UNC Department of Computer Science, said.
“The best way to grow the percentage of women and minorities in the tech sector is to graduate more,” Jeffay said. “If we produce more numbers of these underrepresented groups, they’ll get hired and the numbers will skyrocket.”
Brooks Raiford, president and CEO of the North Carolina Technology Association, said the state technology sector can attribute some of its growth to the living conditions in the state. Weather, favorable tax policies and cost of living are all factors that may contribute to the consistent growth of the North Carolina technology sector.
“North Carolina has been fortunate that it has a very good mix of things that individuals look for and that companies look for when they decide where to live or where to grow their business,” Raiford said.
North Carolina ranks third in technology sector employment growth from 2010-15. But compared with other states, the tech sector does not dominate North Carolina’s economy – which Raiford said is a strength.
“It’s probably a good thing if IT or tech is a more moderate percentage of our total economy because it means North Carolina has a pretty diverse economy,” Raiford said. “Some states are very dependent on one thing or another, and North Carolina has a variety of industries and sectors that we depend on.”
The two keys to maintaining this growth, Abernathy said, are to continue producing talent and to encourage corporate research and development going forward.
“To fuel company growth we’re going to continue to have to both graduate people with the right skills and continue to be able to attract people with the right skills,” he said. “I think overall talent is the overriding public policy issue related to growing technology companies.”