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Business Observer Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 8 months ago

Results may variant: Tech council adapts to omicron

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Tampa Bay Tech looks ahead to resumption of in-person events as it creatively tackles talent shortage.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Tampa Bay Tech, a nonprofit technology council that serves the region’s fast-growing tech sector, saw its membership soar in 2021 — despite ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. CEO Jill St. Thomas says the organization now has more than 130 member companies and added seven new partners, a.k.a. sponsoring companies, in the past year.

But for Tampa Bay Tech, whose slogan is “radically connected,” virtual events have resulted in increasingly diminished returns. So the group intends to charge ahead with more in-person gatherings in 2022, even though St. Thomas acknowledges the omicron variant could dent those plans. 

“I think people's saturation point has been hit with virtual events,” St. Thomas tells Coffee Talk. “For me personally, it's become difficult to stay as engaged as we were a year ago. So, we had to take a step back and say, ‘OK, what are people missing?’ We did a lot of interviewing and pulse taking of our members and people said, ‘We want to get together, and we want to network.’ So, we added some plain old ‘socials,' membership mixers, to our calendar, which (is) something we haven’t done in quite a while.”

Tampa Bay Tech has also reinstated its annual golf outing, which, according to St. Thomas, hadn’t been held the past 10 years. That event, along with the mixers and other membership gatherings, will help raise funds for the organization’s foundation, which was resurrected in 2021 with a super-specific goal: Encourage Tampa Bay employers, particularly tech companies, to hire more college graduates who are autistic or on the autism spectrum.

St. Thomas says 85% "of kids who graduate from college with autism or on the autism spectrum remain unemployed their whole lives,” she says. “That’s a shocking statistic. We wanted to see if we could make a dent in that, so we worked with a national group, Autism at Work, to do a hiring event.”

At the hiring fair, St. Thomas says, seven college graduates landed full-time roles with area tech companies. And the initiative is much more than a feel-good story. Getting employers to consider applicants with some form of autism helps “chip away at the ever-broadening talent gap that everyone’s talking about,” she says. “With all of these new companies coming here, it’s a wonderful way to attract talent and keep our pipeline robust.”

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