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As Greater Boston’s employers begin to imagine a post-COVID-19 economy, they are considering the expanded role of technology in their businesses. A new survey from Accenture and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce shows that executives from the region’s largest employers are accelerating the adoption of new technologies, impacting the workplace and workforce, and further cementing Boston as a hub of innovation and technology.
To remain competitive, employers recognize the need to expand their cloud, cybersecurity, and emerging technology workforces and budgets. Luckily, the emergence of the Greater Boston region as a tech hub means employers can access a deep talent pool to help fill roles in these fields. At the same time, attracting, retaining, and developing local tech talent remains an ongoing concern. Without access to talent, employers risk their competitiveness and ability to innovate.
Cloud is a computing model using servers, networks, storage, development tools, and applications (apps) that are enabled through the internet.
Cybersecurity incorporates the technologies and protocols used to protect digital networks, data, and devices from unauthorized access.
Emerging Technologies include digital ledger technology (blockchain), artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality (XR), and quantum computing.
Adoption of New Technologies Expands Budgets
A majority of Massachusetts employers believe it is extremely important over the next three years for them to be at the forefront of leveraging emerging technologies (56 percent); meanwhile, two-thirds feel similarly about cloud (67 percent), and cybersecurity (66 percent). As a result, investments in these specific technologies will account for a greater share of IT budgets next year. As shown in Figure 1, between 2020 and 2021, emerging technology budgets will increase by 24 percent, while cloud technology investments are expected to rise 25 percent, and cybersecurity budgets are projected to grow 28 percent.
Accessing Boston’s Tech Workforce
Executives feel bullish on applying cloud, cybersecurity, and emerging technologies to their business because of the deep tech talent pool in Boston. In fact, the region’s emergence as a tech hub largely is attributable to its talent: nine in 10 Greater Boston employers are confident or very confident that they can find talent within the Boston area over the next year that possess the technology skills they need.
Part of the appeal of recruiting locally is the region’s robust tech talent specifically in cloud, cybersecurity, and emerging technologies. When comparing to other cities, 65 percent of Boston executives cite the region’s particularly deep talent pool in cloud computing. Over half of respondents (55 percent) identified Boston’s artificial intelligence talent as particularly strong. Moreover, 43 percent noted the strength of the region’s cybersecurity workforce. With such strong local talent, 54 percent of survey respondents are recruiting tech talent in Boston exclusively.
When looking for tech hires from outside of Boston, the region’s large employers tap into the talent pools of several other metro areas. Chicago placed highest with 14 percent of executives ranking that city as their top location for recruiting tech talent from outside of Massachusetts. New York City followed closely behind at 13 percent. But when looking at the metro most often ranked within the top three for where employers recruit tech talent, Austin emerged as the most popular, with 41 percent of employers ranking it in their top three. Very few executives ranked two notable West Coast tech hubs – Seattle and Silicon Valley – within their top three cities for recruiting tech talent. Only 17 percent ranked Seattle in their top three, and only 10 percent ranked Silicon Valley in their top three.
With strained budgets due to the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, employers expect to alter their methods for accessing the tech talent they need in the near future. As shown in Figure 2, approximately four in 10 executives reported hiring new talent (44 percent) or reskilling existing talent (41 percent) in 2020 to meet their technology capability needs. But in 2021, only 31 percent expect to hire new talent or reskill existing talent.
This change is attributable in part to a shift toward leveraging external resources. In 2021, executives expect to increase their use of ecosystem partnerships (33 percent), will be more likely to partner with organizations who have the expertise needed (34 percent), and will be more willing to acquire companies to secure specialized skills (32 percent). These changes will assist companies in remaining competitive for now. But, ensuring a sound recovery from the economic slowdown is necessary for the future skills development and job prospects of Boston’s tech workforce and for long-term viability of local employers.
Remaining a Hub of Innovation
Boston is equipped uniquely to attract and develop tech talent, and it possesses several advantages over other cities. Executives believe the region’s proximity to advanced innovations in new technologies, technology talent and skills, top academic institutions, and leading thinkers in advanced technology are the top four contributors to the region’s emergence and success as a tech hub.
Although Boston possesses a deep tech talent pool now, that may not always be the case. Seventy-two percent of the talent recruited from within the Boston area stays in Boston for four years or more, but only 25 percent stay longer than eight years. Any erosion of our tech talent pool is concerning for employers and the broader economy. In the short term, if organizations cannot find the tech talent they need by the end of 2021, 45 percent will not be able to innovate at the same pace, one in four will not be able to reach their growth objectives, and one in five will lose their competitiveness. In the long term, employers may look elsewhere for talent and the region’s status as a hub of innovation is put in jeopardy.
To ensure the region retains its prominence as a tech hub, survey respondents focused on the need to enhance talent attraction efforts and to develop further the tech talent pipeline.
Right now, Boston successfully attracts tech talent, but employers cite several actions that would improve the region’s ability to continue attracting new talent. As shown in Figure 3, 22 percent of executives think that additional education institutions offering tech training is the most helpful method for improving talent attraction.
Closely behind, 18 percent believe lower state and city taxes would be the most helpful. Massachusetts ranks 34th in the Tax Foundation’s 2021 State Business Tax Climate Index, and has steadily declined from the 25th ranking in 2014. One component of the Index is unemployment insurance (UI) taxes, where Massachusetts ranks worst in the country. Yet with an insolvent UI trust fund, Massachusetts employers face a $1 billion payroll tax hike next year in an attempt to keep the system afloat. This substantial tax increase hurts businesses trying to stay open and keep people employed. In the long run, increasing taxes hinders startups looking to launch in Massachusetts and harms companies looking to add tech talent to their workforce.
While executives ranked additional educational institutions offering tech training and lower taxes as the two most helpful ways to attract tech talent to Boston, a different set of strategies emerges when examining respondents’ top three choices for most helpful ways to attract additional tech talent. Increased efforts around diversity, which 58 percent of executives cited, was by far the most common response. Enhancing the ability to connect, collaborate, and engage in entrepreneurial activities was also important. Increasing the number of incubators (45 percent) and the availability of affordable office space (41 percent) rounded out the top three of consensus picks among surveyed executives.
Prioritizing and developing Boston’s home-grown talent is another opportunity for maintaining the region’s prominence as a tech hub and a combination of different strategies will ensure a healthy supply of tech talent exists for years to come.
Three-quarters (76 percent) of executives find it extremely or very important to start new tech education programs in the pre-K through 12 education system to fill their pipeline with talent in emerging technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. In the more established fields of cloud and cybersecurity, alternative strategies ranked more prominently. Close partnerships between companies and universities to redesign courses to match tech needs is extremely or very important for filling the cloud computing (80 percent of employers) and cybersecurity (75 percent) pipelines. Meanwhile, hosting coding events and hackathons for citizens to skill up is also very or extremely important for the cloud (80 percent of employers) and cybersecurity (79 percent) talent pipelines. The accessibility and adaptivity of initiatives like these particularly are important as the pace of technology change accelerates and access to lifelong training opportunities becomes necessary for a successful career in tech.
As Massachusetts emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, technology will play a central role in supporting the future workforce – whether remotely, along the 128 Corridor, or Downtown. Simultaneously, supporting the expansion of new technologies and our tech workforce will strengthen and enhance the resilience of our economy and help us maintain our competitiveness as a national hub of technology and innovation for years to come.
This survey is based on the responses of 100 companies in Greater Boston with at least $500 million in annual revenue. The average number of Boston area employees was 292. The survey was conducted in July and August of 2020 and features responses from every major industry in Massachusetts. All respondents were C-suite executives or Technology Directors (or equivalent).
Download Survey Results