Washington Business Journal: ‘Elbows out.’ Area universities will compete with each other, and Amazon, for tech talent

University leaders in Greater Washington appear to be on the same page with Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) when it comes to filling the region’s ever-growing demand for tech talent. They often meet to discuss what skills and courses are needed to fill future jobs, panelists said during a tech and workforce development event Tuesday.

But, beneath the “Kumbaya” vibe is an understanding that as universities in the region grow to meet the demands of Amazon and other tech companies, they will compete with each other for faculty. And, the schools will likely also have to compete with Amazon for those educators, said Anne Holton, interim president of George Mason University.

“I’ll tell you, we won’t be competing for students because there will be more than enough,” Holton said. “The place that we all are going to be competing — University of Maryland, Tech and all of us — is for the faculty talent. It’s going to be elbows out.”

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and Marymount University President Irma Becerra, both panelists, nodded and even smiled as Holton made her comments. The GMU president then looked to the only panelist not working at an institution of higher learning — Ardine Williams, vice president of workforce development at Amazon.

“And we are jostling with you for the new people too,” Holton said.

Yes, the same people who are qualified to educate the next generation of STEM students or lead universities’ expansions into new tech programs could also get paid more to work in the private sector.

The universities represented at the event, hosted by the law firm of Bean Kinney & Korman PC, are all expected to increase tech education and their footprints in Northern Virginia in the wake of Amazon’s arrival.

Marymount, the Arlington-based school, plans to grow enrollment from 3,400 to upward of 10,000 in roughly four years. George Mason is building an “innovation district” in Arlington which could host some 3,000 to 4,000 undergraduate students by 2024. And Virginia Tech is in the initial stages of building out a $1 billion innovation campus in Alexandria, which is expecting to produce some 2,000 graduate and doctoral STEM degree students in the next four or five years.

Williams said Amazon chose Northern Virginia because of the tech talent provided by these schools. Yet there still aren’t enough computer science graduates in the region, which is one reason why Williams spends significant time speaking with universities, meeting with school children and driving home the idea that workforce development involves delivering tech courses to underprivileged students.

Another thing Amazon liked about Virginia? Its universities are listening to Amazon’s advice when it comes to educational programming.

“It really is this collaborative spirit, the experimentation and the willingness to take that input from business and adapt curriculum that makes this such an attractive place,” Williams said.

Read the original article on the Washington Business Journal’s website.