Building the next tech workforce in small cities

Written by
Jon Kauffman

Purpose, Inc., episode 1.21: William LaBar of CGI

Since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, common wisdom has held that IT companies must be headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, or Seattle to attract top talent and be close to customers. More and more, companies like CGI are proving that assumption false.

In this episode of “Purpose, Inc.” host Michael Young talks to William LaBar, vice president at CGI, one of the largest IT and business consulting firms focused on state and federal government contracts. Will manages a network of 7 centers of excellence that employ more than 1,800 IT professionals in Maine, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Virginia.

These are high-skilled jobs, too, focused on cloud storage, healthcare, and cybersecurity. “These centers are unique in the types of jobs they’re bringing to communities,” he told Michael, “and they’re anchored around partnering with local universities, local economic development organizations, etc., in order to bring value to our clients.”

Measuring CGI’s economic impact

Will estimated the impact of bringing 400 jobs to Lafayette, Louisiana, where he’s based, at $90 million a year—and the company plans to double the number of workers.

But he says the impact is far larger than an economic boost to the local economy. The city of Lebanon, Virginia, has used CGI’s presence to market itself to other potential employers as a destination, for instance. And in each of the cities where CGI has a base, it engages with educational institutions.

“We need to focus on the long game here,” he said. “We are helping a community create a talent pipeline, not just for us, but for the vision for that community in the future.”

Building the talent pipeline

CGI sponsors “STEM at CGI” summer camps and educational programs for grades K-12—and they have been so successful the company has expanded the program across the country. Each center also partners with local community colleges and universities to offer capstone programs and internships.

“We’re focused on demographics that are underrepresented in STEMwomen, minorities, disabled students, economically underserved portions of these communitieand are focused on inspiring and mentoring them to pursue fields in IT and other STEM careers.” (For a deeper dive into STEM education, check out Michael’s conversation with Ashley Szofer of STEMconnector.)

Attracting talent to smaller cities

Up to 50 percent of CGI’s new hires come straight out of college, Will said. “(Companies) definitely need to offer an environment where you’re empowered and you enjoy working.” That’s even more important with Generation Z and Millennials, he added: “There are a lot of candidates who say, ‘I see the impact you’re having in our local community, and I want to be a part of that,’ and that always just gets me fired up to do more.”

Rather than privileging Ivy League diplomas and big-brand experience, Will said he, and CGI, have refined their ability to identify talent. “I have written on the wall in my office the phrase ‘Potential over experience,'” he said.

Another critical lesson he has learned: “I think one of the things that’s made us really successful in these communities is that we’re listening to the communities that we are a member of, understanding where the challenges are, and how can we help.”

Listen to the full conversation with William LaBar:

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