The talent pipeline for software developers may be the most challenged to keep filled, in spite of increasing industry demands for high-paying positions.

Employer expectations are just as high, requiring both technical skills and abilities that a diploma alone doesn’t fully demonstrate.

 John Stout, president of consulting firm Stout Systems

John Stout, president of consulting firm Stout Systems

“Even if a person has a degree they have to show they can apply what they know,” said John Stout, president of consulting firm Stout Systems. “The classic, heads-down programmer doesn’t work anymore. They want someone on the front lines who can interact with customers and communicate things to non-technical people.”

The need is among the fastest-growing in recent years. According to research conducted by Burning Glass Technologies for the Workforce Information Network, postings in southeast Michigan for software developers topped 18,000 between August 2014 and July 2015, nearly double the number in 2011 – and is expected to continue with hundreds of new postings in the next five years.

While most employers prefer hiring developers with a bachelor’s degree, Stout said that workers with a combination of education through two-year colleges and hands-on experience can launch careers once certain basic skills are certified.

“There are so many program languages and technologies, but if you have fundamental skills you can apply them anywhere,” Stout said. “More and more companies no matter the industry – medical, manufacturing, entertainment or finance – are realizing they’re in the software business for better or worse.”

Efforts by community colleges to provide future workers with both hands-on experience and continued education opportunities includes a recent articulation partnership with Wayne State University that educators said is ideal for those seeking high-tech careers.

“We’re trying to formulate programs so students can gain experience in the form of internships,” said Betsy Jenaway, programming advisor at Macomb Community College. “Students with credit hours can get job experience with companies looking for coders.”

Jenaway said that enrollment in software design courses – as with many Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields – has been stable in recent years in spite of the growing number of new positions. Misperceptions have included that a high percentage of software positions had been outsourced, or that the certifications required advanced degrees to start.

“The outsourcing thing is not entirely accurate, and it’s portrayed as a difficult field,” Jenaway said. The school’s ongoing recruitment strategy emphasizes to middle- and high school students that the fields and needs are expanding in unprecedented ways.

“We tell them that they’ll have a job,” Jenaway said. “And the rewards are great.”

Written By James Mitchell

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