The common wisdom is that there are few job opportunities in the region, especially for college graduates. Most young people assume that good jobs can only be found out of the area, usually in some city like SF, LA, Portland or Seattle. But at recent event celebrating a few industry groups (in this case forestry, education and research, and information technology), the main focus of the panel discussion was the lack of qualified people to fill open postions.

How can this be? Potential employees feel there are no good jobs while employers are having problems finding good people for the jobs they have. Part of the problem may be that expectations on both sides are just too high. Employers ecpect young job seekers to come fully formed in to the market and start contributing as a full member of the staff. New job seekers, on the other hand may be expecting too much in terms of compensation, comparing the scale here to what they hear people are getting for similar postions in those hot urban areas. It seems some kind of dialogue between employeers and employees (or their representatives) might help.

But there are a couple trends that dialogue might not so easily overcome. One is that the baby boom generation is moving toward retirement and there just aren’t enough people in general from subsequent generations to fill those positions. This trend is affecting much of the developed world, not just the north coast.

Another disturbing trend, particularly for the tech industry is the drop in interest in math and computer sciences in current student populations. According to Pam Godwin of the HSU Career Center this drop in interest is blowback from the Silicon Valley bubble burst a few years ago. I think this is only partly true. The trend now is toward small companies started by entrepreneurs with or without computer degrees. Web programming languages have become easier and easier and all the training needed can be found on the web, for free or much cheaper than traditional college paths. Why go to school and get a job in a cube farm when you can team up with a couple friends and make a Web 2.0 company in a few months and get a bunch of money when Yahoo! or Google comes calling. At least that’s the new siren call.

I don’t have any good answers  for those of us on the north coast who will be needing new tech employees in the next few years. But this is going to be a huge issue going forward.