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There’s a lot of demand for qualified information technology and cybersecurity professionals in the state, but there are not enough workers.

Oceanit IT director David Takeyama says his company has had an open position for a year. Even though the job opening is a senior position, he says there isn’t a lot of local talent to draw from.

“Skills that we’re looking for are things like networking system administration. Things like configuring firewalls or routers,” Takeyama said. “And then there’s cyber analytics. So this could be log management and knowledge of how to analyze an incident. So it’s important to know a real threat versus not a real threat.”

Takeyama says applicants from the continental U.S. have applied for the job, but either the applicants didn’t fit their corporate culture, or Oceanit couldn’t compete financially for their skills.

Oceanit is one of many public and private organizations looking for local tech workers.

A new study from SMS Hawaiʻi found the demand far outweighs the pool of workers. In 2020, there were nearly 13,000 job openings in the local tech sector — in IT, cybersecurity, networking, etc. — but only 3,800 people were hired.

The study surveyed employers from across the state, as well as reviewed data provided by the state and University of Hawaiʻi.

“Employers are pretty consistent in their feedback. First, depending on the IT occupation, employers feel that there are too few qualified candidates in Hawaiʻi,” said Alan Ito, IT Workforce Development lead for the UH.

“They also feel that technical skills and credentials often do not align with what their needs are. Managers often complain that new employees are not able to apply the technical skills that they have, the technical knowledge, to workplace challenges.”

Ito says another factor hindering potential employment is a lack of professional experience.

For years, state lawmakers have identified tech as a solution to diversify Hawaiʻi’s economy, but also to create higher-paying jobs.

The report found the average tech salary in Hawaiʻi was $39.92 an hour, much higher than the average $15.53 an hour.

It’s also a growing industry. Employment for computer and mathematics jobs in the state is projected to increase 7% in this decade.

Jobs such as information security analysts, computer and information research scientists, and software developer and quality testers are expected to be the fastest-growing occupations in the state in the coming years.

However, the report indicates more needs to be done between educators and private industry.

“We’ve talked about this for years, about creating IT workforce, about making sure that we’re globally competitive,” said state senator Donovan Dela Cruz during a Chamber of Commerce meeting last week. “And we’ve floundered.”

The report made several recommendations to address these challenges, such as: raising awareness at schools of the career opportunities, improving the skills and credentials students acquire in school with the needs of employers, and having employers review the minimum qualifications for entry-level jobs.

In an effort to address these shortfalls, the Chamber of Commerce Hawaiʻi, in partnership with UH, announced they will be starting a new program called Leap-Start. The goal is to connect employers and students with work opportunities — in order to establish a competitive workforce.

The chamber also plans to create a forum between employers and educators, to align real-world needs and possibly improving curriculum.

The chamber is now seeking partners to join the Leap-Start program.

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