January 5, 2016

Alliance focusing on tech jobs

Provided Jeff Couture, executive director of the Vermont Technology Alliance, stands at the vtTA’s booth at an event.

On Nov. 10, Jeff Couture, executive director of the Vermont Technology Alliance (vtTA), was prepping for a two-day jaunt through southern Vermont.
Couture, on the cusp of entering his third year as head of the vtTA, would be in Bennington on Wednesday and Brattleboro on Thursday, gathering information from those working in the technology sector — from managers of large tech-related businesses, to work-at-home IT pros — on how the vtTA and the state could serve them.
For years, Couture said, just prior to leaving for his trip, conversations and initiatives regarding Vermont’s fast-growing technology sector had swirled around Chittenden County; Couture had wanted to take them south, and was planning on it.
Also, Couture wants to offer lawmakers a broader, statewide vtTA report when they reconvene this upcoming session, as well as connect tech experts from all regions of the state. He was on a similar mission in Newport last summer.
“We were going to do all of this anyway,” Couture said last November, “but now it seems even more relevant with this grant.”
That would be a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is intended to help the vtTA develop a recruitment and marketing plan to promote tech job openings and opportunities in Vermont.
The vtTA sought the grant after learning that tech companies in Vermont are hiring, but have difficulty finding the employees they need, especially experienced professionals. There are more jobs available then potential candidates in the state to fill them, so for many tech businesses that means attracting employees who want to relocate to Vermont.
However, the vtTA also found that many employers are finding a perception that tech career opportunities are limited or non-existent in Vermont, which keeps employees from looking and applying for jobs with Vermont tech firms. Also, Vermont’s small companies do not have the name recognition and awareness to attract employees from a national pool, Couture said.
“The goal of this grant is to help Vermont technology companies recruit employees for job openings and to help define Vermont as a home for tech careers,” Couture said. “Our state’s rural image can lead some job seekers to think that Vermont is not a place for tech businesses and jobs, when in fact we have a growing and vibrant technology business sector that offers exciting opportunities.”
He continued, “We want to work with businesses and partners in the state to change that perception and expand the pool of applicants for tech jobs — to deliver the message that you can have a great quality of life and a great tech career in Vermont.”
“It grew quite a bit through the years,” Couture said.
Couture became affiliated with the vtTA as a board member in early 2011, when he was still working as a longtime spokesperson for IBM, in Essex Junction. They did not have an executive director at the time and were looking to transition one from part-time to full-time.
Meanwhile, Couture wanted a career change. By the end of 2013, he was the vtTA’s full-time executive director. When he initially joined the board, the vtTA had 60 members; today, it boasts about 200, still ranging from companies and colleges to small businesses and — more recently — businesses and organizations that might not perform work in the tech sector, but are closely tied to it.
The company dealer.com, based in South Burlington, was on board as far back as the formation of the VSDA. Dave Parker, senior director of corporate development for dealer.com, was an early organizer, and Chris Yager, one of dealer.com’s engineering leaders, currently represents dealer.com on the vtTA board.
The formation of the vtTA, and its ongoing efforts, “has paid clear dividends” to the state’s technology sector and companies such as dealer.com, said Alison von Puschendorf, dealer.com spokesperson.
“Encouraging state, business and education organizations to work together is transforming our approach to technology in Vermont,” von Puschendorf said. “There’s still much to do, but without the vtTA’s efforts we’d have a much longer road ahead of us.”
In addition to catering to member needs, the vtTA, along with partner Seven Days, holds the annual Vermont Tech Jam, in Burlington. The event started with the VSDA and continues today.
“It’s a great event that draws attention to technology in Vermont,” Couture said.
The vtTA relies on member dues and sponsorships, and, as it grows — reflective of the growth in the state’s technology sector, meaning upward — it will keep broadening its mission.
Recruiting employees through the marketing of Vermont as a tech-friendly state is just one of the items in the vtTA’s queue. The others are continuing to help find and provide investment opportunities for start-up companies, and working toward widespread broadband coverage throughout the state — a dilemma that still keeps some small businesses from growing and, in some cases, even starting in a small, rural state that still does not offer high-speed Internet access everywhere.
“More and more companies are offering opportunities to let people work from home, if they can, and more people are becoming self-employed,” Couture explained. “Having better access to broadband services statewide could help with the recruitment piece for some of our larger companies in the business sector. It’s a tough one, because there are so many layers to it.” v

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