UNCC is pumping grads into local tech jobs

Companies are putting tech jobs in Charlotte at a fast rate, and UNCC has grown its College of Computing and Informatics to be the biggest in the state

The following article appeared in the August 11, 2021 edition of The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with smart and original news about the Charlotte region written by experienced local journalists.

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UNCC’s computer sciences college has exploded in recent years to become the biggest in the state; majority of its graduates stay in Charlotte, where tech jobs are booming

UNCC’s College of Computing and Informatics more than doubled its number of students over the last decade, and its most popular programs are in data analysis, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Here, students work through security challenges in the college’s SmartHome IoT Lab. (Photo by Mike Fresina/UNC Charlotte)

by Lindsey Banks

Charlotte is in the midst of a tech job boom, landing on national Top 10 lists with the expansions and arrivals of companies from LendingTree to Honeywell. And while these businesses’ goals may be unique, they share a key challenge, even in these days of the remote-heavy workforce: recruiting local talent.

Enter UNC Charlotte, which has grown to become the largest computing college in North Carolina and one of the biggest technology graduate generators in the South.

UNCC’s College of Computing and Informatics turns out more than 1,000 graduates each year, about half with bachelor’s degrees and half with master’s or doctorate degrees. Some 74% of the program’s graduates report taking jobs in North Carolina, with the vast majority staying in Charlotte, university officials say. The result: a deep pool of workers for local companies.

UNCC’s growth in the last decade has pushed it above the 30,000 student mark to become the second-largest university in the UNC system. (N.C. State remains the biggest.)

UNCC’s College of Computing and Informatics has fueled that growth as the fastest growing college in the UNC system, said Fatma Mili, dean of UNCC’s College of Computing and Informatics. In the last 10 years, the number of students in the program more than doubled, from 1,324 in 2011 to 3,359 in 2021.

Among the college’s most popular concentrations are data analysis, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, which echoes much of the need in the technology sector, Mili said.

“There is no business that doesn’t need artificial intelligence or use cybersecurity,” she said. “The College of Computing and Informatics has a central role to play. We also understand that computing, to be strong, needs to connect with all the other disciplines, and it’s something that we are doing every day.”

There’s a push in the technology field for more a diverse workforce, and UNCC is working toward that end: It ranks No. 1 in North Carolina for producing African American and Hispanic tech grads, and No. 2 for producing female graduates.

Working with local companies: To help make matches between UNCC graduates and local hiring managers, UNCC has a business partners program with 50 Charlotte-area companies including Wells Fargo, which is one of the region’s biggest employers.

The companies in the business partners program “participate in the education of our students, but they also hold a career fair for our students and offer internships,” Mili said. “They are the first in line for hiring our students.”

Because Charlotte is such a big banking town, many UNCC students are hired in fin-tech, or financial technology jobs, which combines technology and banking services, Mili said.

One major tech company with a presence in Charlotte that’s benefitted from UNCC graduates is Microsoft, which has a campus off Arrowood Road and employs more than 1,000 workers in Charlotte.

Two of Microsoft’s Charlotte employees serve on the board of UNCC’s College of Computing and Informatics, and earlier this year, Microsoft was a financial sponsor and had two presenters at UNCC’s Data Analytics Frontiers Conference, said James Bolling, director of Microsoft’s Charlotte campus and a principal group engineering manager.

Microsoft has more than 300 UNCC graduates working across a variety of jobs worldwide, according to public LinkedIn data.

Bolling said he has about a dozen UNCC graduates on his 70-person team. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to have this institution in our backyard,” he said.

Not just undergrads: This fall, the university also plans to launch a program called “The 60-Year Education” to help older professionals obtain new skills that will help them either launch into a career in the technical field, or grow their career in the technical field.

Mili said the program will focus on broadening UNC Charlotte’s postgraduate opportunities and making them more flexible for, say, the average 50-year-old professional who has already been in the job market. The program will offer a 16-week, in-person training as well as an 8-week online class.

“Because people who graduate today have more than a 50% chance of living to be 100 years old, they will be in the job market until they are about 80,” Mili said. “This means that between the ages of 20 to 80, they will be professionals. This is 60 years of professional life.”

‘Business follows talent’: Companies look for a healthy housing market and amenities like light rail, airport hubs and pro sports when deciding where to locate or expand.

A robust talent pool is also key to the mix, said Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners, a nonprofit focused on planning and development in the University City area. Health insurance giant Centene is building an 80-acre campus in University City that is expected to eventually employ some 6,000 people.

“We believe that business follows talent,” Heater said. “These businesses would not be moving here or growing here if Charlotte wasn’t providing the talent.”

Lindsey Banks is a senior journalism major at UNC Chapel Hill. She was the Ledger’s 2021 summer reporting intern.

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