On Thursday, April 21, 2016, hundreds of leaders from the technology industry in Minnesota met for the Minnesota High Tech Association’s Spring event. Leaders in the space gathered at the Guthrie in Minneapolis to discuss the skills and strategies needed for a smart and evolving society.

Susan Brower, a Minnesota State Demographer with the Minnesota State Demographic Center, kicked off the day with a session on the changing demographics of Minnesota, and what that might mean for the tech industry. Brower shared some of the great things Minnesota has to offer, but also some alarming demographic statistics.

Minnesota is home to more than just our great sports stadiums, countless music venues and 10,000 beautiful lakes. Minneapolis, the largest city in the state, is the 14th-largest metropolitan area in the US and is home to over 85 companies on the Inc. 5000 list. Minnesota is home to 17 Fortune 500 companies and growing and we’re the second largest economic center in the Midwest with major business sectors including publishing, milling, food process, education and more.

While this robust metropolitan landscape is used to a constant supply of workers to support the economy, this is beginning to slow. In Minnesota today, our older adult population has grown steadily each decade since the 1950s. But the reality we are facing today is that the older adult population will not grow in lockstep with other age groups. Rather, it will become increasingly larger relative to other age groups. According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center’s March, 2016 report, “Our projections show that Minnesota’s 65+ population will surpass the 5-17 (typical K-12 school-age) population by 2020, and that older adults will be more numerous than the entire child population under age 18 by 2035. This demographic shift among age groups is unprecedented in Minnesota” (Minnesota State Demographic Center. “Demographic Considerations For Long-Range & Strategic Planning.” March, 2016.).

Because of this boom in the older adult population, we are going to experience a slower growing labor force. Before 2020 we’ll start to see as low 8000 new workers per year (this year we saw 12,000 people entering the labor force) and next decade that will steep even lower.

In addition to slower growth in labor force, Minnesota is also experiencing a ratio of job seekers to jobs of 1:1. If we are to continue to create new jobs across the state – which many Minnesota companies including Target have already reported plans to do – we’re going to need to grow and develop our labor force.

If we look at the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in MN in particular, you’ll find that there are over 12,000 open jobs, but we’re only awarding 2,000 degrees in STEM fields. Brower encouraged attendees of Thursday’s event to start asking the question, “Will there be enough people to keep up with future job growth in our state?”

As the “fastest growing state for Tech jobs” according to Forbes.com, Minnesota has the opportunity to set an example here.

As demographics change, Minnesota companies need to, too.

From my perspective, we have a couple of priorities as a state that we need to focus on:

  • We need to invest more in STEM education so that the Minnesota students we do have are interested and prepared for jobs.
  • We need to get rid of our “Minnesota-nice” mentality when it comes to our economic success and progress. We need to find ways as a state to be less subtle about the great work we do here in Minnesota. We need to tell and share stories of our success so that we can attract and convince talented professionals from across the nation and world to consider Minnesota as a top place for professional growth, particularly in tech.
  • We need to get companies to consider automating outdated processes that they’re using precious people­-resources for so their hiring needs can keep up with our working-population challenges. It’s time for manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, health care companies and more to identify jobs that could be done by the outstanding technology advances of 2016, and use those people resources for more value-add. Take B2B eCommerce for example – if more manufacturers across the state enhanced their order management capabilities, eliminating the need for as many call-center professionals to focus on taking order manually, they could shift those talented individuals to jobs that allow them to provide more value to the organization. We’re not talking about reducing jobs at companies, but it’s time to adopt the technology at our fingertips and utilize our people-resources appropriately.

Minnesotans have the opportunity to shape the future of our state’s economy and set an example for the rest of the country.

 

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