How To Bridge The Tech Skills Gap In South Florida

This is an article from our guest blogger, John Iacovelli. As a Managing Director, John oversees Office & Professional Services at The Execu|Search Group’s Fort Lauderdale location. John has spent over 10 years connecting businesses with talent in Florida.

South Florida’s job market is now the healthiest it’s been since before the recession, with unemployment hovering around or below 5% for much of the region. In particular, the tech industry in South Florida is on the rise. Currently, there is a huge demand for tech talent in the information technology, aerospace & defense, and biotechnology fields, and there has been a surge in tech startups and co-working spaces to house new companies in these areas. A recent report by commercial real estate firm CBRE found that office leasing by tech companies in South Florida has doubled in the past two years.

Business leaders and policy makers are taking steps to support this burgeoning tech industry.  This tech transformation is similar to the one experienced by the city of San Diego as it developed into a national hub for the life sciences and information technology sectors. There is no doubt that South Florida has the potential to follow in San Diego’s footsteps; however, firms in the area are struggling to attract and retain top tech talent, which is proving to be a major obstacle to further growth.

Many people looking to work in tech are drawn to companies in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston, which are offering higher salaries and better benefits than companies in South Florida. These disparities are making South Florida a tough sell for tech talent despite the many benefits of living in the Sunshine State. If businesses in this region really want to compete for and retain the best tech talent in the country, they need to make several changes in what they offer potential employees.

In my 10+ years of working with employers and job seekers in Florida, I have found that salaries in South Florida tend to be on average 15-20% lower than salaries for corresponding positions in traditional tech job markets. The recently released Cyberstates 2016 report from CompTIA similarly found that the average tech salary in Florida is only $82,600, while equivalent positions in cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco can command over $100,000. Hiring managers in Florida cite the “sunshine discount,” or the willingness to accept a lower salary in exchange for good weather and a nice lifestyle, as a reason for lower pay. However, if employers in South Florida want to lure the best talent from these national tech markets, they must improve their salary offers to competitive levels.

Employers in South Florida are also offering candidates significantly lighter benefits packages than their counterparts that are located in other well-known tech hubs. Specifically, organizations are coming up short by not including robust 401k match programs, stock options, and medical/dental plans in their benefits packages. Companies often underestimate the role benefits play in a candidate’s decision whether or not to accept an offer. A good package can have a significant impact on an employee, adding $5,000 to $10,000 to their bottom line. In addition to offering a salary commensurate to what someone would receive in other cities, companies in South Florida must prove that they are also interested in the health and personal well-being of their employees by offering stronger benefits.

Another tactic increasingly being used by tech companies in traditional job markets is to offer candidates both sign-on and performance-based bonuses. Historically, bonuses have been used as a tool to attract and retain employees in the financial industry. However, as a result of the current shortage of qualified tech professionals and the improving job market nationally, tech companies have begun to understand their value as well.

South Florida is on the cusp of truly becoming a major tech center. The infrastructure is in place; now we just need companies who are willing to step up to the plate and increase the total value of their job offers.