Creating net-new tech talent during the worst talent shortage we’ve seen

As U.S. companies see a surge in tech investments, they must look at new ways to develop domestic tech talent to support heavy demand

While the pandemic struck a blow to employment in most sectors, the tech industry is now seeing improvements as more commercial businesses and federal agencies look for talent to help them deliver on new solutions and make much needed upgrades to their IT infrastructure. According to COMPTIA’s latest report, net IT employment remains up by more than 203,000 positions and IT unemployment is at 4.4%, which is less than half of the national unemployment rate of 10.2%. U.S. companies’ need for tech talent continues to outpace the supply. 

The United States has always struggled to meet the demand for tech skills, and recently it’s only been exacerbated by additional converging factors in the middle of the pandemic. U.S. companies simply can’t source enough tech talent, and need to look at different ways to create this net-new supply of highly qualified tech professionals. 

New factors intensify the challenge of finding tech talent

Meeting the surge in new technology needs: Companies are increasingly refocusing on their IT improvement plans to not only streamline operations but prepare for the next disaster. While demand for additional talent took a dip in the first months of the pandemic, we’re seeing hiring pick back up, and in many cases with a sense of urgency.

Planning to prevent the next disaster: Boards and IT leaders are adapting their business continuity plans so they can mitigate the impact of future disruptions. Part of those plans includes looking at where technology can play a better role, whether it’s identifying new hardware and software for more efficient remote work or reimagining cybersecurity plans to lower risk if systems cannot be patched due to a sudden emergency.

Keeping up with the fast pace of technological change: Machine learning is fueling the rapid modernization of tools and platforms, and the shift to the cloud has enabled quick, seamless integration. According to a recent IDG survey, 92% of organizations are increasing or have increased the number of workloads deployed in the cloud. Tech is advancing and converging all at once. Virtual assistant Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky calls it the “collision of exponential technologies.” As a result, we constantly need to be upskilling and learning new technologies. 

Grappling with the lack of domestic tech talent: The United States only graduates 65,000 college students each year with tech-related degrees, and most don’t graduate with the “last mile” training they need to be employable. On top of that, over the last several years we have seen a reduced number of H-1B visas. Previously, the United States was able to lean more heavily on tech talent from other countries to supplement their workforces. 

The pandemic creates opportunity

Just as the pandemic has added new stressors to companies’ challenges of securing qualified technology professionals, it has also opened up opportunities to create new homegrown talent.

Those from liberal arts and other non-tech-related majors bring an incredible value to tech teams. Steve Jobs was way ahead of his time when he said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough - it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Bringing together team members from different backgrounds to solve a problem, understand what’s possible, and how to execute on it is a differentiator for tech leaders truly winning at creating the most powerful teams.

One example is Kendric Williams, a graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Science in psychology, who went on to serve as a police officer for seven years. IT has always been his passion, though: He took apart his first computer and put it back together when he was just 12 years old. Williams decided to pursue his passion and switch careers to meet his goal of becoming a software developer. He went through a training program and now works on the Pega platform for a major bank.

Soft skills are becoming increasingly important, and are not always taught in a classroom. A recent LinkedIn survey found that qualities like creativity, persuasion, collaboration and adaptability were the top soft skills listed by employers. Another quality to look for in non-tech workers is high emotional intelligence (EQ) − the ability to be aware of one’s own emotions and handle interpersonal skills with tact and empathy. Tech skills may be mastered through instruction, but high EQ is a trait a person either has or does not.  

Reskilling is another talent strategy many are pursuing with non-tech professionals who have lost their jobs during the pandemic or see their careers becoming obsolete. Whereas upskilling talent has more to do with training in the latest skill set of a particular domain, reskilling becomes more important for displaced workers and those changing domains. While you can reskill in any industry, reskilling within the same field can be an effective and efficient strategy in securing the new tech skills companies need. For example, an employee who worked in customer service at a bank will find it easier to reskill for a FinTech position because s/he already has knowledge of the industry. A logistics site manager will find a smoother transition to a tech role in transportation and logistics based on experience in previous roles.  

A recent survey polled 1,000 adults nationwide and revealed that of individuals likely to pursue additional training as a result of job loss, 64% would look to change career fields. That’s almost two-thirds of respondents who are open to reskilling. The desire is there from the professionals. 

Tech degrees alone aren’t enough

Even college grads with a tech-related degree still need that “last mile” of training for specialized skills before being employment-ready. In addition, technology is changing so rapidly that universities can’t keep up: 95% of the curriculum at the university level takes about two years to change. 

That’s why partnerships with universities are so critical in producing the tech talent we need. Universities provide the foundation, and others can then step in to complete the final training. This training is either provided by a third-party skills company or the hiring organization. For example, Microsoft just launched a job training initiative. Non-profits like Year Up, Per Scholas and Project Quest help adults obtain higher-paying careers in technology and other sectors. Some online training programs offer training at your own pace. Others, like SkillStorm, offer intense training in a few weeks. These programs simulate work-like environments and real world projects and get really deep into coding and developing.

Military veterans thrive in tech environments

Veterans have and continue to represent an extremely qualified pool of talent from which to source tech talent. They tend to be mission focused, work very well on diverse teams, and put the team before themselves. They have a respect for chain of command, are very disciplined, reliable, and punctual. 

A New York Times article reported on the underemployment issues facing veterans transitioning to civilian work, as well as their spouses “who often lose ground through constant relocations.” A LinkedIn study found veterans are 37% more likely to be underemployed than nonveterans

The business case for hiring veterans is strong, especially for federal agencies and integrators like Lockheed Martin. Not only do veterans have the qualities that help them seamlessly integrate into these organizations, but they often have the necessary security clearances that allow them to immediately get to work.

In the wake of the pandemic, it’s imperative IT leaders think about their tech talent acquisition strategy in a new way. The investment in tech talent needs to be constant - it’s about always learning and evolving, and reflecting that in our TA strategies. As tech demands surge, we must combine the new ways of sourcing talent with upskilling the professional development of existing talent. Our country’s technological dominance depends on it. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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