This past weekend, the Austin Technology Council featured a guest post from Austin Mayoral Candidate David Orshalick in its meet the candidates for Mayor series. Silicon Hills News is asking each of the candidates a series of follow up questions. Their responses will all be posted here following their guest blog posts with ATC. This week is a Q&A with Mayoral Candidate David Orshalick.


David Orshalick, courtesy photo

David Orshalick, courtesy photo

Q. Technology in Austin, as in all major hubs of innovation in the country, has a pipeline problem when it comes to filling jobs. There are more jobs in the Science, Technology Engineering and Math fields open than there are qualified applicants. What steps can you take, as Mayor, to ensure that the Austin workforce can meet the needs of the growing technology industry?

A. In practical terms, the City must undertake a study/survey showing the current and projected technology jobs in Austin and what their educational/skill requirements are. Second, the study must determine the current and projected inventory of workers by skillset, using reasonable assumptions including the growth and directions of the technology sector. Then a gap analysis leading to a workforce development plan can be performed. This gap analysis should be shared with training partners such as TWC, AISD, ACC, UT, and Texas State to determine the needed educational resources and ways to adequately manage workforce development.

However, innovation can lead to disruptive technologies with wildly varying skill requirements. That’s why I take a more global perspective on the societal and career changes occurring in our evolving knowledge society. Drucker described the changes we’re going through in his seminal work, Post Capitalist Society (1993). As fish are unaware of the water in which they swim, we are only dimly aware of the true transformation we are living through. Drucker’s work can help us better chart a path. The City also has a new Chief Innovation Officer who should be tapped for this work as well.

I suspect that we suffer from inadequate educational resources in Austin. For example, the Computer Science Department at UT has a new building designed for 1,500 undergraduate majors. They are currently at 2,200 majors and annually and have to turn down an additional 500 transfer requests from the rest of the student body. (How this translates to other STEM majors is not clear.) However, other educational resources that cost less are available in Austin. For example, ACC and Texas State’s campus in Round Rock offer comparable computer science degrees at a lower cost. Students may not be aware of these and other resources. The City should provide a one-stop shop for career development resources on its website.

An insidious problem was pointed out by the SCANS report of 1991. [As background, the Secretary of Labor’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified the competencies businesses required from every high school graduate.] The problem was the lack of available career counseling for students, which is exacerbated today as some jobs did not even exist 10 years ago. The City must identify clear STEM careers and career paths and training on the City website so students can start early enough to develop these skills while still in middle and high school.


Q. Studies have shown that diversity is a key to success in the technology industry and business in general. How, as Mayor, would you specifically work to nurture diversity in the tech sector to ensure more opportunities for minorities and women?

A. The City should engage in strategic planning with a 25-year planning horizon for all issues impacting the quality of life of Austinites. This will include recruiting more minority and female workers for STEM careers. The resources and approaches of my answer to question #1 above should be applied especially to minority and female students in order to encourage their participation in Tech careers.


Q. Austin is getting the Dell Medical School, which will act as a catalyst in helping to develop the area’s life sciences industry. What do you think the City of Austin needs to do to support and nurture this emerging industry?

A. The City should do for life science’s the same as it should for all local businesses and startups: change the focus of the Economic Development Department away from external recruiting and subsidies and inward toward local economic resources. Studies show that this is the best way to develop an economy and jobs.

The Economic Development Department must become a world-class business consultancy plus provide an ombudsman service to represent businesses in matters before the City. In addition, those industries such as life sciences identified for special development in the City’s Strategic Plan should be supported by targeted expertise in the Economic Development Department.


Q. What is your view on providing incentives to tech companies to locate or expand in Austin?

A. I am opposed to any incentives, subsidies, or fee waivers. We need a level playing field for economic development of local business. In addition, external recruitment is inflationary and is exacerbated by the STEM worker shortage identified in question #1 above.