As a blizzard roared through the Hellgate Canyon outside the Missoula College on Monday afternoon, a distinguished group of executives, business professionals, educators and government officials met to discuss a new initiative launched by the University of Montana.

The ‘Tech Skills for Tomorrow’ initiative brought together Michael Punke, Vice President of Public Policy for Amazon Web Services, UM President Seth Bodnar and Commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Galen Hollenbaugh to discuss the labor needs of high tech industries over the next 20 years.

Hollenbaugh described the issue, starting with the present.

“Right now, there are 500,000 people in Montana engaged in the workforce,” said Hollenbaugh. “That is the highest number that the state has ever seen. However, the demographics of the state show us that over the next 10 years, 100,000 of that workforce will be retiring and leaving the workforce. We also know, by looking at people as they are coming through the education system, that we have only about 90,000 people available to replace them.”

UM President Seth Bodnar said the university and Missoula College are teaming up with employers to help fill those high-tech jobs.

“This is something that takes teamwork,” said Bodnar. “Here at the university we have 126 years of expertise in teaching, learning and educational delivery, and we know that expertise matters. Also, to truly be successful it takes partnership, it takes collaboration, and so, our whole goal here is that partnership, and expanding the conception of what a higher institution can and should be for its community.”

Michael Punke, Vice President of Public Policy for Amazon Web Services, who actually lives in Missoula and commutes to the Amazon headquarters in Seattle, described the needs his company has now and will have in the future that the ‘Tech Skills for Tomorrow’ initiative can help to fill.

“The part of the company that I work with, Amazon Web Services, has a huge need for more trained workers,” said Punke. “They need to be skilled in cloud internet technology. We started a conversation about eight months ago with Seth, the president of the university about finding overlap between the need we see and the training that we think that the University of Montana and Missoula College can help offer. So, this is a continuation of that conservation which is now starting to result in actual students being trained, and we’re very excited about that.”

Bodnar invited several collaborators to the launch, including Amazon Web Services, Montana High Tech Business Alliance, Missoula Economic Partnership the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. Local tech companies such as ATG-Cognizant, Submittable and LumenAd also attended the luncheon and took part in the conversation about addressing workforce demands in the tech industry.

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