Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Jeannine Wild, an executive recruiter for Rackspace, will be the San Antonio area's first Chief Talent & Recruitment Officer. Her hiring was to be formally announced Thursday.
As an employee of local tech sector advocacy group Tech Bloc, Wild will be tasked with growing the workforce for the city's fledgling tech economy by placing top information technology talent in positions at local companies, primarily smaller and medium-sized firms that cannot afford their own in-house recruiting personnel.
She will work not only with tech startups and large companies hiring tech workers, but also postsecondary training providers, higher-education institutions, and other workforce development organizations.
"It is our strong belief that talent is the No. 1 driver for the growth of a local, vibrant tech scene," said David Heard, CEO at Tech Bloc, who will oversee the position. "People often will say we need more jobs, or we need more investment, or we need more education. Yes – all of the above. However, it is our belief where you have a good cluster of creative talent that the jobs will follow [and] the entrepreneurial startups and investment will follow."
Heard pointed to Silicon Valley, where skyrocketing real estate costs, among other factors, make building a startup there virtually cost-prohibitive. But it "still leads the world despite the enormous cost because [it has] talent," he said.
Although the small- and medium-sized tech companies in San Antonio will perhaps receive the most direct support from a single point-of-contact for tech talent recruitment, Heard said firms of all sizes in the area will benefit.
He said the position will bring a unifying presence to a fractured recruitment system.
Bexar County and the City of San Antonio have each provided initial seed funding of $150,000 for the CTRO's salary, marketing and outreach, and data management systems.
“We are helping launch this program through our County Innovation Fund,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in a news release. “Jobs in the tech industry offer good pay and are a big part of our future economy. We need to grow our tech talent base as a springboard to more tech job creation and income opportunities for our local workforce.
"I can tell you first hand that every single time we recruit a tech company to San Antonio, one of their first questions is, ‘Are we going to be able to hire enough local tech talent to meet our business needs?’ We really feel like this new CTRO program from Tech Bloc can help.”
Wild's first major project is to create a central repository of information technology talent – a database that will not only provide a directory of tech sector workers and their skillsets but also inform curricula at local higher education institutions and vocational training companies, Heard said.
Rene Dominguez, who leads the City's economic development department, said the data management system will be a game-changer, and it's the primary reason the City funded the position.
"Perhaps [it] isn't going to produce the insights and valuable data immediately, but over time we'll be able to attack this problem systematically," Dominguez said. "Where are those system breakdowns, and how come we are not producing the supply of individuals that jobs demand? [Answering those questions] is ultimately our goal."
Erin Wilbanks, H-E-B's director of strategic recruiting, chaired the hiring committee for the chief talent and recruitment officer position. She said finding someone with a combination of deep experience recruiting tech talent and familiarity with building a database from scratch was a critical component of the search.
"San Antonio and Bexar County are putting a stake in the ground and saying, 'We are a thriving tech sector in San Antonio, and we are growing. You should stay here. There’s opportunity for you,'" she said.
David Marquez, who heads Bexar County Economic Development, said that a tech ecosystem only goes as far as its talent pool. He said that the CTRO must work to build up all three aspects of the local talent pool: development, recruitment, and retainment.
"This is an industry that … lives and dies on talent. All three of those elements of the talent equation are equally important," Marquez said.
A Florida native, Wild moved to San Antonio six years ago from Laredo. She's worked since March 2015 to attract executive-level talent to Rackspace, the managed cloud computing company based in Windcrest.
She said she's excited to play a role created from scratch. When she starts her new position May 7, Wild aims to help Tech Bloc confront the ongoing challenge of growing the local tech workforce.
"Coming to San Antonio, people might not realize there are 900 tech startups [here]," she said. "When they think about big companies there's USAA, there's Rackspace. There's not a lot to name off. I think that is sometimes hard for people to grasp, like 'What if this doesn't work out? Where would I go next?' ... Those are the kinds of things we're competing against."
Hiring a central tech talent recruiter is an unprecedented step for a city looking to accelerate the growth of its tech economy, but Heard hopes the CTRO position can become a model for other industries.
Tech Bloc hopes its appointment of Wild as CTRO will confront head-on what it deems as the local tech sector's most daunting challenge: access to talent. The recruitment and retainment of such professionals as software developers, data scientists, information technology experts, and other in-demand technical professionals has sometimes eluded San Antonio's aspirational tech sector in recent years, Tech Bloc representatives said.
It's a local industry that, according to a recent SA Works report, grew its number of jobs by 13.3 percent over the past five years, a bigger increase than the national growth rate of 12.3 percent. Nearly 34,000 residents in the San Antonio metropolitan area earned their living in the tech industry in 2017, and the number of tech jobs is expected to grow by more than 4,000, or 12 percent, in the next five years, according to the report.
“The IT sector is one of the City’s five target industries for proactive economic development investment, support and growth as we continue to expand and diversify our local economy," City Manager Sheryl Sculley said in a news release. "We are encouraged that this program will be industry-led through Tech Bloc, giving it the best opportunity to stay attuned to the true market needs of local tech employers and workers.”
Tech Bloc began soliciting applications for the position in July 2017 although Heard said the position is two years in the making. Tech Bloc first pitched the CTRO idea to City officials in 2016 during the fiscal year 2017 budgeting process.
Heard said Wild stood out for her fearlessness to enthusiastically seek a position that lacks a tried-and-true template.
"There's an entrepreneurial aspect to jumping into the fray here and building a program that doesn't exist, and she didn't blink," he said. "This was something she seemed excited about. ... We feel like we've got someone who's really up to the challenge."