This is one in a series of stories showcasing the opportunities and the people who are in extraordinary demand for careers in information technology computer science, health care, manufacturing and other business and Professional Trades fields.
Anthony Montalbano builds things.
“What makes web development so exciting and different is that we literally bring ideas to life,” said Montalbano, 35, co-founder of AMBR Detroit, a web design and development company he and Brian Ritter started in 2012.
“You can start your morning working with a client and coming up with an idea, spend the day writing software and, at the end of the day, launch the code, and it becomes an experience for someone halfway around the world,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
IT careers like web development are a hot ticket today thanks to an insatiable demand for faster and better technology. In Michigan, web developer employment is projected to grow 12.6% annually, and its average salary of $61,000 a year is expected to keep increasing because of the rising need for people with IT skills.
And yet employers are struggling to fill these posts.
Tech careers in high demand
Michigan’s career development programs support training in occupations traditionally considered “skilled trades.” In addition, the state promotes training and exploration in a wide range of occupations in emerging high-demand, high-tech industries such as cybersecurity, health care and advanced manufacturing, spurring Michigan’s creation of the all-encompassing term “Professional Trades.”
Demand for these careers far outpaces the supply of qualified workers.
Estimates show Michigan will experience a Professional Trades workforce gap of more than 811,000 openings by 2024 due to the emergence of new technologies and retiring baby boomers. Michigan’s working-age population across multiple industries is projected to decline by 6.7% between 2020 and 2030 — the steepest decline of any state in the U.S. — posing the single greatest threat to the state’s continued economic recovery.
Although CNBC declared Michigan a Top 10 State for Winning the War for Talent in its America’s Top States for Business 2018 study, leaders in business, education and government agree much more work remains to satisfy Michigan employers’ hiring needs and keep local economies moving forward.
Despite the demand, appreciation for Professional Trades is lagging in Michigan.
For example, more than 50% of Michigan’s high school students, young adults and parents lack knowledge about the value and benefits apprenticeships offer, with only 13% of high school students considering apprenticeships a good career path option.
That’s why the Talent and Economic Development (Ted) Department of Michigan created Going PRO, a groundbreaking education campaign to elevate the perception of Professional Trades and showcase the numerous high-paying, high-demand career options and apprenticeships available across the Great Lakes State.
“From web developers, medical sonographers and massage therapists to millwrights, welders and plumbers, Michigan has an abundance of career opportunities no matter your education level or interest,” said Stephanie Beckhorn, Ted’s acting director.
“These are good-paying careers that don’t always require a four-year degree — many of these career paths have opportunities with an apprenticeship, specialized credential or associate degree.”
Coding as a career
Montalbano’s interest in computer coding began as a teenager. After graduating from Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Kettering University in Flint.
Although a computer science degree isn’t a must-have for web developers, it brings an important perspective to the table, Montalbano said. A web developer is responsible for behind-the-scenes coding and programming how websites work in web browsers.
“The difference between a good web developer and a great one is understanding how to architect and organize your code,” he said. “My degree taught me fundamental concepts on how software works, and that’s served me well.”
Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor offers a series of IT-related classes, certifications and associate’s degrees to meet the growing demand for tech training.
“We see a steady stream of job openings [in the tech field] ... and our job is getting students ready for those positions,” said Jason Withrow, a faculty member in the college’s web design and development department.
After Montalbano earned his degree, he worked at several places in the Detroit area, including a stint with Domino’s, where he was part of the team that created Domino’s Tracker®, which allows hungry customers to monitor their pizza’s progress from store to front door.
Touching lives through code
AMBR Detroit has grown through the years, creating custom software solutions for clients including StockX, the University of Michigan and Rock Ventures.
AMBR Detroit also developed the Let’s Detroit talent attraction and retention website last fall for the Detroit Regional Chamber. The site targets young professionals, connecting them with each other and with places to live, work and play across Southeast Michigan.
AMBR Detroit, now a six-person operation, understands the struggle to fill the talent gap.
“There’s very high demand not just for web development, but really good web development,” Montalbano said. “It’s actually difficult to find the right people.”
But the career’s rewards are worth it, he said.
“A web developer can write a small amount of code that has a big impact. In 2018, our team of six wrote software that touched the lives of over 3.5 million people,” he said. “What we do every day can affect literally millions of people. That’s what’s exciting about my career, and I love it.”
Want to learn more about becoming a web developer? Visit Going PRO.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.