It was a great pleasure to sit down and chat with Craig Jackman, the CEO and President of Paragon IT Professionals. Craig has seen economic boom and bust over his 22 years leading a highly respected and growing 22-year-old Staffing and Software Solutions company based in Des Moines, Iowa. Yet no matter the economy, the lack of available workers with specific highly desirable skill sets has always been present.

In our nearly 45 minutes together, we dig in to ask if the skills and talent gap is real? What’s being done about it? What’s worked and what hasn’t? We had a lot of fun too.

We talked about some amazing companies, people and resources as well including:

Please consider subscribing to our podcast through your favorite platform. Or if you choose, just click play and you’re all set.

You can download a nice PDF of the interview transcript here.

IT Skills and Talent Gap – Conversation between Doug Mitchell and Craig Jackman

Doug Mitchell: (00:06)
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with president and CEO of Paragon IT Professionals, Mr. Craig Jackman. We discussed the topic which has really, really vexed me for the longest time, and that’s the talent gap, or the skills gap, or the war on talent. Is it real? Is it solvable? And after 20 plus years in the recruiting and software solutions space, Craig has truly been there and done that. And I’m pleased to bring you his perspective in this podcast.

Craig Jackman: (00:41)
Thanks for having me, Doug. Glad to be here.

Doug Mitchell: (00:43)
I’m glad you’re here. Wanted to have a chat today. You’ve been in this business a long time. You’ve seen change that is in some ways cataclysmic in terms of the industry and the economy. We hear constantly out there, this bugs me all the time, we hear talent gap. We hear skills gap. We hear STEM and pushing more kids into the tracks that will produce more software developers, more engineers, things like that. It’s hard for some people to actually visualize if this is a real problem, if it’s a real challenge, if it’s something that can be solved by simple things like just pay more, or just force everybody into a certain track and say, “You’re going to be a software developer.” Tell me about the skills gap and the talent gap. Can you give me some working definitions so I can feel more comfortable about it, please?

Craig Jackman: (01:38)
Yeah. I’ll try to address that a little bit. I’m probably not the universal expert on that. However, I think the talent gap is really lacking the number of people to do work. And the skills gap is really the requisite skills or experience in a certain technology. And we have a combination of both that are happening simultaneously. And the talent gap isn’t just in the tech sector. It’s in all sectors. And I think that’s born from really a slow, consistent economic growth, bull market, so to speak. And I think years ago when they were talking about anemic economic growth, 1.5%, 2%, we wanted it at 3%. I really saw that as, for me, an upside because it creates, as long as it’s sustainable over a longer period of time, more predictable revenue, more predictable expense management. And so I think we’ve seen since 2009 recession, which was really disastrous for many people in across all industries, what we really saw is a nice growth recovery, probably not as fast as those who hit near bottom without going bankrupt. We wanted faster growth again, recover from the debt and loss.

Craig Jackman: (03:02)
However, once we fully recovered from that, certainly here at Paragon, we’ve seen that steady growth as being a good thing for us, as we’re able to plan for the future. And so the high highs and the low lows are not good for my soul. For a lot of people, I think the Silicon Valley really created in technology this excitement around really blowing the doors off it, and turning nothing into a billion dollars, and it’s just not realistic for normal business people. So I think in technology, a lot of us just didn’t have the stomach for those kind of swings. And for as many companies who made a dig, there were hundreds and thousands of times more that failed with that high valuation, no profit model.

Craig Jackman: (03:51)
I think the skills gap was borne from that. People got excited about being in technology, and we’re still excited today. But as times progresses, we’re seeing a nice, slow and consistent economic growth pattern has allowed for organizations to grow and add predictable growth to their companies. And that’s been a really good thing, and I’ve really enjoyed that. It’s kind of eased our mind. We’re not waiting for the next wheel to fall off, so we’re able to stabilize our companies. But the talent gap, meaning a lack of people to do the work, is the number one thing that inhibits growth. And we see that desperation, so it’s not like companies today are wondering, “Can I make a profit?” They just see that the opportunity cost is passing them by. And I’ve got friends in all industries. Construction comes to mind quickly. And I’ve got friends who run huge corporations. And they’re passing up 10s and 30s and hundreds of millions of dollars in opportunity because they don’t have the people. They just can’t find the people to do the work.

Doug Mitchell: (04:55)
See, that’s just so mind blowing. Isn’t it? It seems like such a simple macroeconomic problem. But it’s not. It’s more complicated than that, otherwise, I think we, in our economy, would fix it. We would just fix it.

Craig Jackman: (05:10)
100% agree.

Doug Mitchell: (05:11)
Fix it.

Craig Jackman: (05:12)
And I think it seemed simple when we started to get a sense that the talent gap and the skills gap started to increase at an increasing rate. People said, “Oh, this’ll be easy. I’ll just pay more. I’ll get a foosball table. I’ll provide free lunch.”

Doug Mitchell: (05:29)

Craig Jackman: (05:30)
Beer. Let’s tap one on every floor, and hire people that want that because it will attract more people. And I think what was really shortsighted is: Are we going to retain those people? Silicon Valley made all of that famous. Facebook has done it. There’s a great organization in Ames called Workiva. They have an actual facility that looks like Google’s campus. And Google has come onto Workiva’s campus and says, “Wow. This is just like ours.” And you go in there, and there is a huge amount of really excitable people that have their dogs in there. I went in in a suit one day, and people thought I was an alien. It was amazing.

Doug Mitchell: (06:16)
Right. You must be coming from Europe or something.

Craig Jackman: (06:18)
That’s right. And what was funny is that they had also created a similar environment where people could work at all hours of the day and night. They have apartments behind the building that if you want to rent one, or lease one, you can stay there so you don’t have to travel back to Des Moines, which is a 30 minute trip. And they’re doing an amazing job. But I think what you see, and I’m old school, so I look at that and go, “That’s really exciting. It’s not happening here.” And I would say, venture to guess, that there are probably some young people in the company, because there’s way more young people than older people like me today in our company. How do we create more of that flexibility because they see it out there? And shouldn’t we have it too?

Craig Jackman: (06:57)
I don’t disagree with it, and I want people to be happy and excited to be inside of this company. At the end of the day, I don’t know that it makes us any more productive. So I’m shifting some of my thinking leaning that direction, like flex time from home is a new thing at Paragon, which does create more retention. We’ve always been able to attract really good people here because I think we’ve got a good vision and a mindset about our customers. We have good customer engagement, which is critical to actually having money coming in the door. But at the end of the day, I think some of those things are helpful. And companies today are trying to … They’re asking themselves the question: How do I win the war on talent? We’ve been trying to solve the talent gap, I think conversations inside the tech association have gone on since 2004. And like you said earlier, we just don’t have an answer to it.

Doug Mitchell: (07:51)
Millions have been plowed into encouraging young kids to … And women, and I read a statistic recently, I can’t quote where it’s from, so you can take it or leave it. But it was, there are fewer female computer science graduates today. Now I’m not saying computer science is necessarily a program, but just as a benchmark, fewer women are graduating with computer science degrees than ever before, apparently, even though we’ve been saying, “You know what. Learn how to code. Go to code camp. Do all this great stuff, kids. Get involved.” And yet, it seems like we’re still … And by the way, we’re still kind of far away from solving the problem.

Doug Mitchell: (08:33)
And if you’re 18 and you learn a few coding, a few developer languages before you’re 20 something, seems like you’d be a really hot commodity. And everybody would do that if it was paying well and they enjoyed it. But that’s just not happening.

Craig Jackman: (08:52)
It’s not happening. And we’ve thought about this a lot, not just here in Iowa, but I’m sure in every state in the country people are wondering. How do we close this gap? Certainly, in terms of the required skills or aptitude. And so the question I ask myself, Doug, is: What is aptitude to technology? Right? Science and math, you’ve got to be good at those things. Certainly, if you play an instrument, you seem to have more aptitude for science and mathematics. The irony of the whole thing is I’m not that guy. I was an economics major in college because it was the only business degree I could get that didn’t require math.

Craig Jackman: (09:32)
Can I do math? Absolutely. I’m actually pretty good at math. Am I good at science? Loved my biology classes at Iowa and in high school. But it just doesn’t really inspire me. And so when we’re trying to look at elementary school children and high school young people, and wonder. Why aren’t you doing technology because it pays so well? And the demand is so high. There’s a huge number of these people that are just not inspired by it, or just they might be good at it, but they don’t like it.

Doug Mitchell: (10:03)
I don’t like typing letters in a certain sequence into a text binder.

Craig Jackman: (10:08)
That’s right. You recently have your experience with our program.

Doug Mitchell: (10:11)
Yes, yes. I can relate somewhat.

Craig Jackman: (10:14)
I think we’re a little shortsighted on what it really takes to be successful as a programmer, or developer, software engineer. And some people, you see people who are really good at it. They have a knack for it. And they have a knack for anything technology. So I think there’s a little bit of a miss in terms of how we approach that. Although, I think there’s some amazing programs going on, certainly in Iowa. We did hyper stream for the Tech Association, where we got people really … We’re looking for more curriculum in the schools, in high schools. The Governor’s STEM Council has a program called Computer Science is Elementary, so introducing this into elementary schools. And Paragon is supporting that currently.

Craig Jackman: (11:00)
There are code camps and there’s tech journey. And we’re looking at gender and race, and really, we’re looking at places that we can find more people. We did it with the off shoring model blew up pre Y2K. Let’s get people from other countries to do it. It used to be just an India based thing. And it’s become everywhere else in the world.

Doug Mitchell: (11:24)
Global now, yeah.

Craig Jackman: (11:25)
Yeah. Just type in, looking for a Java developer in Upwork, and you’ll get rated for $17 from somebody in Siberia. And you’ll get a rate for $90 from somebody in Mexico City. It’s unbelievable how many people are getting involved in helping be part of the tech talent solution. But we just haven’t come … And everybody predicts it, that here’s the next thing that’s going to fix it. And we just really aren’t fixing it. I think it’s because the gap is increasing at an increasing rate. So we’ll pick up some ground in the high schools, finally get it as part of your science curriculum in high school, which is amazing, it hasn’t been.

Doug Mitchell: (12:06)
Yeah, right.

Craig Jackman: (12:07)
I think we’re fixing that, which seemed obvious.

Doug Mitchell: (12:09)
If you have to learn a foreign language, I mean, code is a foreign language, frankly, for most of us. Shouldn’t you have to learn one before you get done with high school too?

Craig Jackman: (12:16)
That’s right.

Doug Mitchell: (12:17)
I mean, Python, or Java. If you want a job immediately upon graduating high school that pays well, I could see that happening.

Craig Jackman: (12:26)
That’s right. That’s right. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity for kids to do that today, or even adults. DMACC has always been a huge supporter of the businesses in Des Moines, and they’ve got code academies. Code academies, there’s a lot of them going on. Pillar Technologies, one of the new companies in Des Moines, has created a program for rural areas in Jefferson here in Iowa. And it’s been really successful. They committed a million and half dollars to build a facility. And they actually had one of their employees, who’s from Jefferson, who is now part of creating. There’s only 4000 people in Jefferson, but because industry has left there, they’re trying to look at: How do we get people in small communities to be part of something like what Pillar’s building in Jefferson? So far, that’s been successful. And we have people from the West Coast coming to look at that program and saying, “How do we implement that around the country?”

Doug Mitchell: (13:21)

Craig Jackman: (13:22)
And so kudos to what Pillar has created there. And it’s just another greenfield opportunity to make up some of the ground. I don’t know that we’ll ever really make up all of that ground. We’ll be reliant on other nations and off shoring, near shoring, offsite type of work. And certainly, hopefully for companies like Paragon. But at the end of the day, I just don’t know that we’re going to close that gap. We’re not going to close the gap as quickly as we hoped we could. But it’s always better to have more jobs than people than more people than jobs.

Doug Mitchell: (13:55)
Yeah, yeah.

Craig Jackman: (13:55)
So we need to find a better balance for that. And I think we’re making headway on finding that balance.

Doug Mitchell: (14:02)
If you want to take a quick snapshot and you say … When I look at that from an outside perspective, I would think recruiting companies and staffing firms would kind of view themselves as an instrument to help close that gap. If I need a Java developer, I’m certain that I could contact you, and your recruiting team would find somebody, somewhere, who’s possibly, probably find somebody who’s a fit, and be able to do that. If I have a project, and I need 10 people to grow and I have this initiative, and I say, “Gosh, I really need 10 Java developers,” it seems like a recruiting firm like Paragon is closing that gap for people. It is at least doing its part to try to give them the talent they need to grow. And I think that lends itself to the statement you made about not being able to outrun the skills gap, the growth, the desire to grow. I need 10 people. I need 20. I need 50 more to match my initiatives, but those are growth initiatives, not just to maintain. Am I on the same page as you?

Craig Jackman: (15:09)
Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, to maintain business today, of course, in an economy like this you’ve got to be growing, otherwise you’re just losing ground against your competition. You’re losing market share and customer share. So you’re right, we’re really looking at economic growth. And how do we keep up with that with the requisite staff and skills to do that? So you’re right on track with that. It’s just a big challenge. And if you look at industry leaders, they’re not saying, “We’re suffering because we’re going broke.” We’re suffering because we’re not growing at the rate we’re supposed to be growing in an economy like this today.

Doug Mitchell: (15:44)
Yeah. Or as fast as my competitor, who’s better at cultivating and finding talent than we are, for example.

Craig Jackman: (15:51)
That’s right.

Doug Mitchell: (15:51)
That’s what they might be saying to themselves. Yeah.

Craig Jackman: (15:54)
Right. Attraction and retention are the critical pieces of this, which is why Paragon 10 years ago started the IT Leadership Forum. People stay in an organization because of a good leader. And they’ll also leave because of a bad leader. And so we’ve done some work on that. And Joel’s run that program for nine years, and it’s been a success for us and our customers. We’ve got great feedback on that. We’ve done the IT Leadership Forum scholarship program, where we’ve raised over $100,000 for scholarships, high school kids in Iowa who go on to Iowa College to study computer science. The brain drain, Iowa’s very famous for our brain drain. And this came up in a Tech Association board meeting one day. And I think we all agreed in the room that people from Iowa certainly have some kind of inspiration to leave, and eventually come back to raise a family.

Doug Mitchell: (16:49)
Yeah, seems that way.

Craig Jackman: (16:49)
Mid to late 20s. The goal of our associations and community leaders and the Greater Des Moines Partnership, they have a talent board that I’ve participated in, is to not so much people from leaving, like don’t expand your world, don’t go anywhere other than Iowa. But if you leave, how about you come back a little bit earlier? How about we make this a great place for young people to live and thrive? And the community here has done an amazing job in building. If you’ve been around Des Moines for any number of years, I’ve been back since 1998, I think. No, I’m sorry. Yeah. 1998. There’s just been … No, 1994. There’s been so much happening here. The young people have all moved downtown. There’s a patio on every corner.

Doug Mitchell: (17:39)
Bike trails, bars.

Craig Jackman: (17:40)
Bike trails, bars.

Doug Mitchell: (17:41)
Tons of beer.

Craig Jackman: (17:42)
Entertainment, rock concerts, festivals, art festivals. Those are all things that are really making this city grow, and a lot of other cities grow. And I think I just saw that we were ranked number five recently in one of the best places to live and thrive. And those are great accolades for a city. And you’re seeing young people graduating from college from Iowa State or Iowa and going, “I’m moving to Des Moines,” as opposed to Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles. And that’s building momentum, so we’re seeing really explosive growth in Des Moines, and housing market. Our office is downtown here in Des Moines. And the number of residents that have arrived here is amazing. I was down here on a Sunday at 4:00 picking something up in the office, and it was thriving down here. 20 years ago, you’d come down, it would be a ghost town. They’re either up in the sky walks, or they went to the suburbs for entertainment. And that’s shifted big time in the last five to 10 years.

Doug Mitchell: (18:44)
Yeah. That lends itself to that retention element.

Craig Jackman: (18:48)

Doug Mitchell: (18:48)
Having things that are interesting and exciting for everybody to do because while I’m not a 20 something recent graduate, I still appreciate those things too, and being able to come downtown and use some disposable income on such things. And maybe it’s the last five years, maybe a little more, but Des Moines has been showing up as top city for fill in the blank, retirement, even for technology jobs in many ways. We have such big companies. We have sort of high concentration that I’m sure that has helped that brain drain concept because, yeah, I hear young people all the time saying that Des Moines is pretty cool. Same with Minneapolis, which to me is just a bigger version with more hassle in a way. But I like it a lot, but it’s just a larger version.

Doug Mitchell: (19:34)
As we look forward and look out at the next 10, 20 years, we read things like we don’t use college degrees as a barometer anymore, as a metric to say, “You can come in.” That’s not a barrier to entry in some cases. A lot of bigger companies, I think it was either Google and Facebook, or Apple and somebody said that recently, publicly. We don’t use this as a requirement anymore. Match that up with, again, reading more things about it’s not so much that you have the technical skill right now. It’s that you have the ability to learn and that you have the ability to interact and collaborate and succeed in oftentimes what they would call a matrix organization, where there are people from all different groups, and everybody’s got a different boss.

Doug Mitchell: (20:24)
But we all have to work together towards a common goal. Those skills are harder to recruit for. Do you see the next 10, 20 years, whatever, of this skills gap, talent gap, recruiting, trying to solve it, do you see that those elements are going to become more of a standard process and practice in terms of recruiting and retaining, finding out what’s my EQ? How do I interact with people? How do you test that?

Craig Jackman: (20:52)
That’s a good question. Usually, we find out someone’s EQ after a few months’ worth of work?

Doug Mitchell: (21:00)

Craig Jackman: (21:01)
We find out how they really behave outside of a formal interview process. However, we tend to think that good companies attract good people because of the things that those companies are doing. Everybody might want to go work for a great company that’s good community in mind, it’s family first, that’s productive, has good customer relationships, has profitable growth. But people who don’t fit into that culture generally just don’t stick around very long. We experience that here at Paragon, certainly. And the best companies feel that same way. You know real quick whether someone’s going to be a fit in the organization. And some of that’s their mindset and their EQ. We kind of use that interchangeably here. We’ve got to have a growth mindset to really get things done. Not everybody does. From a sales perspective, you’ve got to have a growth mindset, and we’re a sales organization.

Craig Jackman: (21:54)
But you’ve got to make yourself indispensable to your industry and to companies. And I think that’s a critical piece of skill that is not taught in schools. My counselor, I think I met my high school counselor once. And I never really know that they had them at Iowa when I graduated there. Didn’t know where some of my classes were either, but that’s a different story. But at the end of the day, I think that you have to get experience and make mistakes to get more experience. And at the end of the day, I think the traditional educational foundation that we’ve built might be crumbling a little bit because you’re looking at people that are coming out of high school with strong technology aptitude, and organizations that are trying to tap into that are saying, “Listen, whether you go to a two year or four year college, we don’t really care. You’re good at what you do, and we want to teach you how to work here, or we want to keep you in Iowa.”

Craig Jackman: (22:54)
And that scares the regent universities, state run universities. We have hundreds of years of experience teaching young people how to become educated so they can go off and get a good job, home with white picket fence, maybe one or two cars in the driveway.

Doug Mitchell: (23:12)

Craig Jackman: (23:12)
Load up their 401K plan, maybe there’s still a pension available to them. They get their kids off to college doing the same thing, and they get to retire and ride off into the sunset. And it seems like in the last five to 10 years, the thinking around that has changed. And now you see more kids going, “I don’t want the debt.” Tuition has gone up. Parents are now telling their kids, “We don’t want the debt. And so how about a two year degree? Let’s figure that out at a community college or at a two year college. And let’s get you into the workforce to see what you’re really good at.” I think one of the craziest things that I hear people asking young people is: What do you want to be when you grow up? Because who knows?

Doug Mitchell: (23:55)
Still figuring that out.

Craig Jackman: (23:57)
Still figuring it out. I think it’s an unfair question to young people. And it puts people … It makes them maybe productive citizens, where they’re paying taxes. But I’m not sure that the overall life satisfaction is there when you’re blindly going for something safe that pays enough to cover the car and the house and the education for your family. I think people’s minds have expanded beyond that. And it’s also scary for employers. It’s scary for universities because they’re seeing a drop off of people who are coming to their colleges. And you see community colleges like Des Moines Area Community College, who are blowing up. They’ve created more sophisticated programs. They continue to market that to the communities, and they’re gaining on they’re gaining on those big schools like Iowa and Iowa State.

Craig Jackman: (24:50)
You can certainly look at Iowa State and say they’re the best engineering probably in the Midwest, if not one in the country. If you really have an aptitude for engineering, you’re probably going to go to Iowa State. Or agriculture, you’re probably going to go to Iowa State. But when it comes to the people who don’t have a trade or don’t quite know what they want to be when they grow up, a two year degree is not a bad idea. And you go out and you get some experience. And you go back and maybe finish a four year degree in something more specific that suits you. And in your case, maybe go off and get your master’s degree when you’re later in life. I think knowing what you want to be and do when you grow up is just something that is very elusive. Nobody asked me that question, but I knew the lifestyle that I wanted to personally lead, which was freedom. I think one of the personality profiles I took early on said, “Craig likes rules as long as they’re his own.” And I’m thinking, “That’s perfect for me,” which is really why I got in business for myself.

Craig Jackman: (25:51)
My parents and my grandparents were self employed, and I just knew that’s the lifestyle I want to lead, not because I knew what it was like to be in corporate America. I just knew that looked pretty good. Looked cool. My parents were around. My grandfather was around. And I wanted to be around for my children. I knew that I wanted to have kids early and I wanted to be a part of their lives. So I think I’ve accomplished that, and I knew my brother, Joel, has done the same. But the traditional path has changed, and it’s gaining momentum.

Craig Jackman: (26:21)
And you can look at Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook and say that he dropped out of Harvard or wherever he went to college. And you know that one billionaire that didn’t go to high school. But those are really rare instances that someone doesn’t need any education or any guidance. I think you’ve got to have mentors, and you’ve got to have a community that is really giving you an opportunity as a young person. And I know in the state of Iowa, we’re providing that for young people. And we’re not trying to get people to not go to Iowa State and Iowa and UNI, and any other school in the state of Iowa. We just want people to be more realistic about … I mean, I think people should be more realistic about what they want to do because college debt is a major problem in this country. And it’s quite sad that people are paying off this debt into their 30s and sometimes into their 40s.

Doug Mitchell: (27:09)
Yeah, it is. It is. It is amazing. That’s a whole nother probably good podcast topic for someone, Adam Carroll maybe.

Craig Jackman: (27:18)
Right. He’d be great at it.

Doug Mitchell: (27:20)
To talk about, again, to invite him back in. But it seems, I’ve known, and since I’m well into my 40s, on the backside of 40s, I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “You know, things just used to be easier in business.” I just want … Why can’t we just go back to when I didn’t have to think about it? And my age, or let’s call it into your 50s, thinking, “I’m just going to ride this out for retirement.” I’ve heard it. I’ve heard it from a lot of people. The challenge is, I don’t see, excuse me, I don’t see that actually happening anymore. I don’t see the ability to ride anything out, which is why, at least for some people, they take on that next level of skill. They go get some additional training. They go get something that the marketplace seems to be finding valuable.

Doug Mitchell: (28:06)
But I just think business has fundamentally changed into something maybe we couldn’t have seen, the pace, the rapid change, the disruption. And yeah, I can feel it. If people are asking me all the time, “Hey. When’s it going to get better?” It isn’t. It’s not going to get better. What do you mean, better? It’s not going to slow down. It’s only going to speed up, so you have to adapt. And I want my kids, and I’m sure you want the same for yours, to have the adaptability, to have that EQ, to have that what I would call community college for some kids when they graduate at 18 is a very affordable experiment. You know?

Craig Jackman: (28:47)

Doug Mitchell: (28:47)
It’s something you can go and try and do. You’ll probably never regret it even at the end of your program, let’s say you learned how to fix air conditioners and heaters, at the end of that you say, “I don’t want to do that,” you have a technical aptitude that you could fall back on no matter what.

Craig Jackman: (29:05)
That’s right.

Doug Mitchell: (29:06)
I wouldn’t say that I had that for a lot of my career. And maybe I still don’t. I don’t know. But it’s definitely a pain inducing transition I think we’re going through. And people feel it. And the companies I know that Paragon work for, work with, they feel it too. It’s almost like the rate of change and the rate of growth and current state is just outpacing the ability to adapt. And I think companies like Paragon fill that gap, and they fill that need for folks along the way. It’s kind of exciting.

Craig Jackman: (29:42)
Yeah. I think you’re onto something with that. The adaptability is something that’s been going on since the beginning of man, I think. I mean, we have to adapt to our environment. If you look at the pace of just technology in general, I’ve got three teenage boys, 18, almost 17, my twins are 17. And I can tell you that they look at how it used to be and think that it was like medieval times.

Doug Mitchell: (30:10)

Craig Jackman: (30:10)
Right? And you probably experience this with your young children. They’re like, “You had a black and white television? And you had to actually dial a phone?” And I think there was an experiment on YouTube that they had a dial phone for two 20 year olds, and they didn’t even know how to pick up the phone.

Doug Mitchell: (30:25)
What do I do? Rotary.

Craig Jackman: (30:26)
Right. That stuff moves really fast for me too. And I actually long for days of old. If we all decided to throw away our computers and our phones, I would be super happy because I think it’s created a level of complexity. I don’t think it’s really created more efficiency for us. But it is a new world. And it’s the world that my children and your children have grown up in. And they really don’t know any different. They don’t remember when you got a cable box and you could push now 36 buttons. And it had a little cord on it.

Doug Mitchell: (30:58)
It was so revolutionary.

Craig Jackman: (30:59)
It was revolutionary, MTV. Right? Revolutionary.

Doug Mitchell: (31:03)
Oh gosh.

Craig Jackman: (31:03)
We don’t really need televisions anymore. We don’t need cable anymore. We stream everything.

Doug Mitchell: (31:08)
Podcasts killed the radio star.

Craig Jackman: (31:11)
Podcasts, that’s right. And Netflix killed the movie star, at least the big picture movie star. Things have changed really dramatically. I’m old school. Again, I really like the way it used to be, although I understand why it is the way it is today. And I think the old retirement age is 62 or 65. That was an industrial revolution idea. We actually physically worked ourselves into retirement. We don’t do that anymore. And so I think if you’re growing up in the world today, or if you’re probably still in your 30s or 40s, just plan on working longer. Right?

Doug Mitchell: (31:46)

Craig Jackman: (31:47)
Your financial plan needs to extend out further, and you need to be indispensable to not just companies, but you need to have skills that allow you to find other ways. And those aren’t skills like, I know how to swing a hammer and put up some drywall. I think they’re skills on, I know how to endure and adapt and be resilient and have grit. You hear people talk about this all the time on podcasts and on Instagram and YouTube. But think those are really the critical pieces and have been for the human beings for a very, very long time. We have to be able to understand our environment and adapt to that environment to be happy, which I think is the goal of life. It isn’t to be successful and mount wealth and build a big bank account because at the end of the day, what does that all mean?

Craig Jackman: (32:35)
And when you get to be close to 50 like you, and 52 like I am, you look back and go, “What does it mean?” Because building … I don’t want to snuff out ambition because that’s what really inspires us when we’re young people, or younger people. But at the end of the day, it’s really about living a better life. And I think Adam Carroll talks about this a lot, and I love his stuff, and a lot of people do. You don’t have to grind it out all the time, which you hear a lot also on YouTube. But you have to be able to grind it out when it’s necessary. And that’s building that resilience and grit, which is I think an important characteristic. It’s an EQ thing. And so there’s a lot of smart people that don’t really have anything going on.

Doug Mitchell: (33:22)
I don’t want to rewind the clock, but if I could, I think, I hope, I would look at today if I’m 18, I would say, “I could create my destiny.” I have a more tangible vision of my destiny two years out, four years out, six, eight, 10. I could see a future, especially again, if I address some of these gaps in the economy, and they’re enjoyable to me, and I go after them, I can actually see. If I go learn code, I could call you guys up and say, “I’d like a job, please. Can you find me a contracting job? I’m an entry level programmer, but I’ve done X, Y, and Z. And I know Python and Ruby, whatever it is.”

Doug Mitchell: (34:05)
It seems like I could actually have a very clear vision that I could do that for the next four years, bank X amount of money, and then decide to do something else if I want to. I didn’t have that exactly. We’ve been through a couple of economic changes since ’94 when I graduated college and started off on the work world. If I’m a kid today, I could probably see that. That’s what’s so exciting about it. And again, that gap, if we’re outrunning the ability to keep up with it, I understand completely. It’s just, I’m trying to push my kids that direction. They like science. They’re good at math. That doesn’t always translate into writing code.

Craig Jackman: (34:45)
Yeah. It doesn’t. I think those people can maybe start writing code. But maybe they can learn to get into leadership. I think leadership’s a good path for young people. And I think there’s probably not enough education out there to teach them the leadership characteristics, because I think we all have it in us. It’s just what we’re most comfortable with. And then quite frankly, everybody’s an entrepreneur today. And the consulting world has blown up. You can hang out your shingles for almost anything these days and get paid for it. And I think more of our society’s moving that direction. Working from home has been going on for a long time, but it’s really popular now. I’m not that guy. I don’t want to work at home, but some people really do. They like the flexibility of that. I don’t think it means that they’re less productive. But I have a sense that some people want to be at home because it’s easier and there’s less accountability. However, some people are super successful working from home.

Craig Jackman: (35:43)
But I think there’s just a lot of opportunity for people to create skills for side hustles, as they call it today, or make just a career of it. I mean, let’s be honest, knowing that you could work 10 months out of the year on contract, and take a couple months off to play golf or lay on the beach sounds appealing to guys our age.

Doug Mitchell: (36:03)
Yeah. Doesn’t sound so bad.

Craig Jackman: (36:05)
Yeah. The trend, I hear it a lot, is the trap for us was, be a good kid. Get a good education. Go to a good college. Get good grades. Get a good job. Buy a house in the suburbs. Get married. Have kids. And retire at 62, and everything’s going to be okay because you’re going to have a 401K and social security to take care of you. That was a real traditional path for 100 years. And I don’t know that it is today. So our kids are going to grow up in a way different world. Technology is all they know. I, quite frankly, I have to still do control, alt, delete on my keyboard to fix things, and power my phone off to fix it.

Doug Mitchell: (36:50)
Right, right.

Craig Jackman: (36:51)
My kids look at me like I’m crazy. But it’s a different world for them than it is for us.

Doug Mitchell: (36:58)
This conversation and this topic is by no means over. It seems like every time we may be making some ground in this talent gap, or skills gap, or war on talent, another report comes out. And it says, “There’s way more jobs than there are people to fill it.” And again, the solution isn’t just one or two facets. It’s potentially unsolvable over the long, depending on economics. We went through that. It really feels like we’re at that point where we have to accept where it is a little bit more, maybe. I don’t know. I feel like we have to accept it a little bit more and adapt to it, versus just sort of publishing a report saying, “We need 50,000 more engineers.” It just isn’t that simple.

Craig Jackman: (37:54)
It is not that simple. And there’s some super smart people who’ve been working on this for a very long time. I don’t think that life today is as bad as we think it is just because we don’t have good people. It’s a great time to live in America. I don’t know about anywhere else because I don’t live there. It’s a great time to be part of this great country. And there are some super smart people doing a lot of great things to move the needle forward. And I mentioned The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the Bureau of Economic Development, run by Debbie Durham, the Governor Reynolds. There’s just some amazing stuff happening, and these people are super dedicated to it. And so I love to be a part of that conversation and also a part of the solution if I can. But I think we just need … It’s a hot topic. By the way, it’s been a hot topic for a long time. The bubble burst on the dot com era back in April of 2000. And we thought that was disastrous. It was nothing compared to the constraints we have today.

Doug Mitchell: (38:56)

Craig Jackman: (38:57)
And people were riding a way different wave going into 2000, post Y2K. Consulting blew up, crazy valuations blew up in the Silicon Valley, and that thing burst. But you’ve seen it recover now. Dot com is another, we could use it again.

Doug Mitchell: (39:16)

Craig Jackman: (39:17)
And valuations are still … We just saw a couple.

Doug Mitchell: (39:20)
Creeping up.

Craig Jackman: (39:21)
Creeping up, Uber and Lyft and Pinterest are going public. Those valuations are nuts. Have you seen those? Those are nuts.

Doug Mitchell: (39:31)
Some very smart people have put their money and faith into the calculations that led to that valuation. And yet, I think they probably still look at winning one out of 10 times.

Craig Jackman: (39:41)

Doug Mitchell: (39:42)

Craig Jackman: (39:43)
And I’ll plug the Pinterest founder again. He’s a Roosevelt High School graduate.

Doug Mitchell: (39:46)
That’s right. I remember that now that you say that. Yeah.

Craig Jackman: (39:49)
You know I’m fond my high school. But I think we do need to just get more comfortable with the condition of the talent gap. And if you’re an employer that has a good business direction, you’ve been around, you treat your people well, you’ve just got to find what attracts them and retains them. And we’re doing our part. We can do our part as a recruiting and consulting firm to do that. But there’s no silver bullet. It’s like marriage. We don’t have all the answers to this stuff. But today, you’re really fighting for the same talent, so be good at that. Be good at fighting for the talent, which means you’ve got to stay focused. And everybody is running lean because we’re growing, so keeping up with growth is hard.

Craig Jackman: (40:37)
We actually have fallen into leanness, not by design, but because there’s a lack of talent because our companies and our leadership want us to grow, and we can’t get the people in the door fast enough. We can ramp them up. And then they don’t work out, or they get poached by somebody else. And so just be one of those companies that can not just attract it, but really retain good talent. There’s about 1000 opinions on what that means. You’ve got to find what works for you as an organization and invest in partnerships and your leadership and training. Don’t be afraid to train your people because I hear people say, “God. I don’t want to train them and lose them.” The old adage, right?

Doug Mitchell: (41:18)

Craig Jackman: (41:18)
What’s worse, it’s not training them and keeping them. That’s what’s worse.

Doug Mitchell: (41:22)

Craig Jackman: (41:22)
But sometimes it feels like a warm body’s better than nothing, and it’s not.

Doug Mitchell: (41:28)
It’s not. Over and over again, that’s proven. Yet, it’s difficult to do when you’re in the moment.

Craig Jackman: (41:33)
That’s right.

Doug Mitchell: (41:33)
Difficult to pull the trigger on saying, “Sayonara.” Yeah, it’s fascinating. This topic is not going to go away. We know that. It sounds like, again, with what Paragon does with its clients, with consultant relationship program, it sounds like you’re taking the steps to do as much as possible to solve this for our partners and friends out there in the Midwest market. I think that that dialogue will continue. And in fact, I know that at some point in the near future, we want to have kind of a, I would call it a round table, or a panel, something like that, and really bring in some economic viewpoints, some maybe contrarian viewpoints as well, and get more of this dialogue going. So I’m just super excited to continue the conversation. I don’t think we’ll come up, as you said, with a silver bullet. I just think it deserves attention. It deserves some continued conversation because it can really be a constriction on growth for organizations.

Craig Jackman: (42:38)
Absolutely. And the growth, economic growth for the country. Listen, I don’t know that we’re going to be a socialist nation any time soon, contrary to some people’s beliefs and desires. And we still are about capitalism and economic growth. And I think there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that as long as it’s with the best of intentions. I think we’ll continue to see this challenge, Doug. It’s not going to go away any time soon. We’re giving it some attention. I’d love to crowdsource this thing. I’d love to see who around the world could really solve this. Maybe Singularity University could put this on their docket. And I know they’ve got something. This is one of many topics that they have. But I don’t think that not having enough people to continue to build our wealth is a world problem. I don’t think it’s one that people really care that much about in terms of-

Doug Mitchell: (43:34)
That’s a different perspective. That’s really good perspective. I appreciate that immensely. Yes.

Craig Jackman: (43:39)
There’s a lot of countries just looking for clean water and sanitary conditions, so we have it good here. And sometimes we forget that. But I think we’ve done … The world certainly is flattening out. It’s becoming more of a worldwide economy. But there’s still a lot of suffering. And we should take a step back and realize how grateful we are for the good things that we’ve got. That’s my plug for that. But at the end of the day, it’s certainly here in Iowa. We’ve got a great community.

Doug Mitchell: (44:10)
Yeah. It’s a great place.

Craig Jackman: (44:11)
It’s a great state. Everybody’s safe here. We have things that others don’t. We just don’t always recognize that.

Doug Mitchell: (44:16)
If you have conversations, topic, you want to talk about this issue, please add your comments into the blog post. You can do it as well on the podcast site. Just share with us. And if you want to have a dialogue, and this is a passionate topic to you, reach out. Let us know because this is really just, I think, just the beginning of trying to sort this out over the long-term. So thank you, Craig. Have a fantastic day. Appreciate it. And we’ll see you tonight at the Prometheus Awards, where Paragon is nominated for which?

Craig Jackman: (44:55)
IT service provider of the year.

Doug Mitchell: (44:57)
IT service provider of the year. Very exciting times. Thanks a lot.

Craig Jackman: (45:00)
Thank you.

Doug Mitchell: (45:00)
Have a good day.

Craig Jackman: (45:01)
All right.

Doug Mitchell: (45:07)
Over the last decade, the Paragon IT Leadership Forum has had an incredibly positive impact on the lives and teams of its 300 plus alumni. Through its charity arm, the leadership forums have raised over $100,000 to fund scholarships for men and women pursuing STEM related degrees. Forums are being organized now for the start of 2020 in both Des Moines, Iowa and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Learn more at