According to the recently released Educause Top 10 IT Issues for 2015, hiring, retaining and keeping skills fresh for IT staff tops the list. We all clearly see the emojis on the wall emulating a future that involves certain exponential increase in the use of technology. It’s not a stretch to assume that with an increased use of technology comes an increased need for staff to support, manipulate and manage the technology and its output.
As educators, how are we preparing talent for technical positions in the midst of this current speed-of-light paced technology environment?
As students, what do we need to have in our bag of tricks to stand out from our employment competition?
As employers, how do we attract and retain talent? What do we look for? And more frighteningly, when we find that perfect fit, how in this current landscape do we keep them with assumed perpetually finite resources?
My family moved to New England for an exciting new career opportunity. This area is as picturesque as a postcard and the people here make this displaced southerner feel right at home with their friendliness and hospitality. Professionally and not surprisingly, almost two years later, I have been invited to participate in a group discussing the pain-points of a “severe and growing” digital talent shortage within our region. (P.S. Welcome to “every region” U.S.A.)
In our corner we have employers needing positions filled. We also have qualified candidates. Against us, we have New York City a quick commute away promising higher salaries. We have a perceived “skills gap” from new college graduates where employers are demanding experience on their resumes. We also have a slew of millennials teaching themselves how to code facing employers that require a degree and experience. We need, we have and we struggle. What do we do today?
First things first, we communicate. We communicate with our businesses, and we set very real expectations for what the technology candidate of today looks like:open and excited about technology with a side of critical thinking skills and ability to communicate. They need to view “Hello World” for what it is – a common line that translates the same regardless of software, language or service. They don’t need the specific work experience. They need to provide the undaunted answer, “I can totally do that” with a proven history of owning a project on virtually any scale. If learning new things or making mistakes makes them nervous, next!
Additionally, the candidate of today will need an on-boarding training experience. This is not unusual today (nor has it ever been) and it is well worth the investment. If you don’t have the capacity to provide digital onboarding in-house, find an agency that can help you with this. Remember, it’s not about how you code “Hello World” behind the scenes, it’s that “Hello World” is displayed – period. As long as a candidate can unravel the path to accurate output, that’s the important (and telling) part.
We also need to communicate with our applicants. What will it take to put them in their jobs of choice today? Use your intern experience as work experience. Have a list of completed projects on the tip of your tongue. Show no fear for new technology and deliver that message alongside a variety of examples showcasing your agility, execution and success in technical projects spanning numerous technologies. Most of all show that you are dedicated, excited and energized by the prospect of new and different – after all, your career itself is “change.”
So enough about the “now,” how about the future? It’s an apparently meme-worthy future. A few fast facts:
So how are we preparing for the fact that 80 percent of the jobs in the next decade will require technology skills with less than 20 percent of degrees boasting a technology focus?
This challenge will only increase over time so it’s imperative we address it now, systemically and comprehensively. Technology jobs are not standard jobs. They need to nimbly conform to a rapid pace of change. Our employers need to know this, our current and future team members need to know this, and discussions need to be persistent.
Preparing for the future requires that, from an education standpoint, we focus on current technologies and embed within our students the agility factor. Understanding the code is greater than memorizing the code because, as languages evolve, the concepts remain the same. Understanding the method automatically prepares a student for the next big thing.
We need to facilitate internships and other hands-on opportunities to practice their skills in the real world, building familiarity and confidence. We need our students to fail from time to time in order to recognize that failure is an integral part of technology development. Failure breeds learning, building and growing. In essence, we need to be pumping out “the total package” in each technology graduate – skills, confidence, and experience – in order to send them off career-ready.
One final thought: As parents, how do we encourage and facilitate technology as a possible career path for our children? This is a strong, lucrative path. It’s exciting, fast-paced and constantly evolving. Critical thinkers who balk at boredom? Get these kids into the digital fields. Sure we need more girls in STEM, but let’s face it, we need more of everyone in these technical fields. The numbers prove it and the opportunities continue to expand. Let’s make the no. q challenge of today evolve into the no. 1 success story of the next generation.