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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Doubling Number Of Milwaukee Tech Workers Likely Requires More Diversity

Chuck Quirmbach
Kathy Henrich, CEO of Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition speaks Tuesday at the coalition's quarterly meeting.

The new leader of a Milwaukee organization aiming to double the number of Milwaukee technology workers by 2025 says the goal is doable. But she says it will take getting more diversity into the tech sector.

Kathy Henrich is CEO of the Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, which was formed last year by some of the area's biggest companies. Those include Accenture, Advocate Aurora Health, Johnson Controls, Kohl's, Northwestern Mutual and Rockwell Automation. More firms and local colleges are joining and pledging money. 

Henrich says the goal of doubling the number of tech workers in the region within five years means adding at least 70,000 workers, plus replacing another 30,000 current ones who are likely to retire. White males make up a majority of tech employees. So, Henrich says it's essential to connect with more of the population.

“It's so wonderful to see the diversity of programs being developed here in Milwaukee to attract each individual population — because they each have unique needs. So, together, I think we have a bright future in Milwaukee," Henrich told WUWM.

Leaders of some of those programs joined Henrich for brief presentations at Tuesday’s quarterly meeting of the Tech Hub Coalition. Megan Cindric, remote program coordinator at the local office of Girls Who Code, introduces female students to computer science and computer coding through code clubs.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Megan Cindric, who's with Girls Who Code, speaks during Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition's quarterly meeting on Tuesday.

"What those are, are free, afterschool programs for both third to fifth and sixth to 12th grade girls. We work on creating a sisterhood of supportive peers and role models they can look up to, to feel inspired by. And we're going to teach them the computer science and coding skills to make a difference in their community and change the world," Cindric told the audience.

Patricia Cabral-Mercado, of the company Lift Up MKE, works with women who left tech because of concern about the workplace environment or to care for relatives. 

"These women want to relaunch. We've seen them struggle with a number of barriers as they try to re-launch, and so that represents an opportunity," Cabral-Mercado said.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Jenny Ketz (left) and Patricia Cabral-Mercado, both of Lift Up MKE, speak during Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition's quarterly meeting on Tuesday.

Mark Fairbanks, executive director of Islands of Brilliance, helps teach tech to students on the autism spectrum. He says companies like Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase have started autism hiring initiatives.

“They are seeing increased productivity from these employees, and talent retention. And it's starting to spread across the country,” Fairbanks said.

Henrich, CEO of Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, says tech jobs help create other jobs, and future workers will find it hard to find a job that doesn't require tech skills.

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