Gary Cole believes that Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus in Alexandria is bringing a key ingredient to the regional and national landscape and is positioned to help his company, Deloitte Consulting, define new ways to enhance their most important asset: their people.

Deloitte hires nearly a hundred Virginia Tech graduates each year to work in all areas of the company – but it’s been an “uphill battle” keeping graduates with technology skills in the Washington, D.C., area, he said.

Cole, a principal for digital HR strategy and solutions at Deloitte, thinks the Innovation Campus will go a long way to closing the region’s tech-talent gap.

“A lot of companies in the D.C. area are seeking additional technology skills,” said Cole, who is also a Virginia Tech alumnus. “Providing more direct channels from Virginia Tech to those companies will be beneficial both for the students as well as the companies seeking technology talent.”

Cole joined representatives from a mix of companies participating in a “Future of Talent” roundtable in December at Virginia Tech’s Arlington Research Center. The event was the first of a series, called Next Up: Conversations to Shape the Future, being planned by leaders of the Innovation Campus to explore important tech-related issues with partners and community members.

The Washington, D.C., region’s tech talent gap influenced the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to focus its bid to attract Amazon HQ2 to Northern Virginia around investing in higher education. It provided the catalyst for Virginia Tech to build an Innovation Campus in Alexandria focused on graduate degree programs in computer science and computer engineering.

The first Next Up meeting drew representatives from such companies as Deloitte, Amazon, Capital One, and Freddie Mac. The second one — Future of Connection — included leaders from a dozen companies and organizations, including Accenture Federal Services, Amazon Web Services, AT&T, Dominion Energy, Qualcomm, and JBG SMITH, when it was held last month in Arlington.

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“The roundtables are being carefully designed to bring together leading thinkers and partners to explore key questions shaping government, industry, higher education, and the world,” said Brandy Salmon, founding managing director of the Innovation Campus. “We value this kind of direct engagement with and insights from partners as we build the Innovation Campus to contribute to something bigger than ourselves and catalyze the next biggest tech hub."

During the December meeting, participants discussed a range of related topics, including desired skills that companies are seeking for tech-related jobs and creative partnering constructs.

Bailey Edelson, senior vice president for development at JBG SMITH, said the Future of Connection roundtable was a great opportunity to learn more about how companies and localities are working to create Smart Cities and other advanced technologies, including 5G and beyond.

“The infrastructure we build now in National Landing will play a huge role in what the opportunities will be for the future,” she said. “As a real estate company, it’s really important for us to hear from Virginia Tech and from industry leaders in these technologies so that we can understand how we can best support them and support the research and innovation coming from companies and the university.”

NextUp meeting at JBG Smith Marketing Center in January
January's Next Up meeting, Future of Connection, was held at the JBG SMITH Marketing Center in the Crystal City section of National Landing. JBG SMITH updated the marketing center recently to highlight Virginia Tech’s planned Innovation Campus in the Alexandria portion of National Landing, where it will be part of a larger mixed-use innovation district in Potomac Yard.

Cal Ribbens, head of the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, said the forums help faculty contextualize market needs to ensure Virginia Tech is preparing students with technical skills and the resiliency needed to make big impacts within rapidly changing fields.

“We have a lot of one-off meetings, but you learn a lot more when there’s more people in the room,” said Cal Ribbens, head of the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech. “We are trying to meet the needs of a pretty broad economy, and computer science in particular sends graduates to a wide range of companies in a wide range of sectors.”

Several companies expressed hope that Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus will help recruit talent with deep technical competencies, leadership skills, and interdisciplinary context of the broader societal and human implications.

Understanding how Virginia Tech can work effectively with business is critical, especially with the close proximity of Amazon’s future HQ2 in Arlington with the Innovation Campus, said Anne Szeto, director of strategic recruiting and academic relations for Amazon.

“Academia and private industry need to understand how to best work together to build collaborations that meaningfully accelerate the development of real world innovation,” she said. “Virginia Tech is not dissimilar to Amazon. We deeply care about supporting the next generation of innovators, and we want to focus on applied research that will help solve problems that are big and small.”