We’ve Been Talking About the Tech Skills Gap for 10 Years. Why Hasn’t the Conversation Gotten Any More Productive?
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The tech skills gap has been a problem for a while now, and as the world navigates the new workforce landscape, the demand for talent will only grow. Now more than ever, tech skills are needed in every industry. Companies will need new tech support to enable efficient remote work. Waves of innovation spurred from the crisis will demand more tech talent. And demands for technologists to help address the health crisis in real-time are soaring.
As demand increases, companies must rethink supply. Consider the well-known narrative that the talent gap exists due to a widespread lack of tech skills. This may be true of the current workforce. (IBM reports that more than 120 million workers across the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be retrained in the coming years, but only 41 percent of CEOs say they hold the skills necessary to drive business.) However, this narrative is incomplete.
Its focus is on the lack of skills — a problem inherent only to the workforce. But what if the skills gap is as much, if not more, a result of outdated educational methods and hiring mindsets?
That’s what we found when we started LaunchCode to help close the gap. When we set out to equip more people with tech skills, we discovered plenty had the aptitude and eagerness to learn. They either weren’t being given relevant training in traditional educational environments or they were being met with unnecessary barriers to getting hired.
Relevant training alone, however, won’t fill the talent gap. Companies will need to open their hiring doors to a more diverse talent pool. Whether you’re hiring and developing tech talent for tech companies or nontech companies (which are also increasingly in need of tech skills), every entrepreneur must be invested in the conversation about how to change the way his or her company recruits and develops for these skills.
Creating new pipelines
Outdated mindsets are impeding progress toward closing the skills gap in a few ways. At the college level, traditional institutions simply aren’t set up to evolve their curriculum quickly and easily enough to meet the changes in demand among companies. The skills students learn often prove irrelevant by the time they graduate.
On the employer side, too many companies are talking about their inability to find candidates yet are unwilling to revise their hiring standards. For instance, many still require strict credentials, such as degrees or previous experience, that automatically exclude a broader talent pool. Today, when more and more technologists are self-taught or learning through alternative skilling programs, these credentials are needlessly limiting.
The good news, however, is that even in today’s rocky economy, this landscape is slowly shifting. Within tech, in particular, the skills gap is beginning to close. The Indeed Hiring Lab compared this field to others and found an upward trend in skills matching with available jobs.
The reason for this? Changes in training and employer hiring practices. In the years since starting LaunchCode, we’ve watched coding boot camps explode and a plethora of websites for online skilling emerge. People have so many options to equip themselves for work in tech — and to do so quickly. As unemployment rates soar in various other industries, more people will likely turn to these resources to reskill and find jobs in tech.
But this still wouldn’t matter if employer attitudes and hiring practices stayed stagnant. Fortunately, companies in tech are shifting more toward competency-based hiring, and it’s allowing candidates who don’t meet traditional qualifications to get their feet in the door. This means that fewer applicants are getting pushed aside automatically because they don’t have degrees in computer science or five years of experience.
Narrow your company’s gap
Tech may be leading the way here, but employers in any industry can work on closing the tech skills gap within their workforce. These three strategies can help you start with your company:
1. Evaluate your demands.
The blend of roles in many companies is changing daily. As automation and robotics alter the complexion of the workforce, the most relevant skills are shifting quickly.
In manufacturing alone, 20 million new jobs around the globe could go to robots by 2030, according to Oxford Economics. However, the World Economic Forum expects this mixture of human and machine to lead to 133 million new roles by 2022. Robots may be filling some roles, but they’re also creating new ones that will demand talent with relevant tech skills.
This means your company should always be evaluating its technology demands and talent needs — for today and the future. What’s already being automated? What’s likely to be? What new technologies will you be implementing, and what roles are needed to implement them?
2. Look for upskilling opportunities.
Instead of looking outside for new talent to fill in the gaps, take a look at who’s already in your company. You may have people who fit the bill perfectly but just need you to help them develop a few new skills.
Amazon announced last year that it would spend $700 million on retraining and upskilling 100,000 employees. That’s an entire third of its U.S. workforce. The retail giant knows that its skill demands are changing rapidly. But rather than hunting to find 100,000 people with the right STEM skill sets, it’s going to equip proven people from within.
When you invest in upskilling, you increase the potential of your existing resources instead of sinking your resources into scouring a highly competitive job market. And you help employees advance out of lower-skills jobs and move up in their careers.
3. Rework your job postings.
Despite the changes in tech, many other companies are still stuck in the old way of thinking about experience. A TalentWorks analysis of almost 100,000 jobs found that 61 percent of all full-time, entry-level jobs required three-plus years of experience. And that amount of required experience is rising by 2.8 percent every year.
Contrast that with IBM’s Rocket Center, West Virginia, facility. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, almost a third of its employees working in cybersecurity, cloud computing, application development and help desk support don’t have four-year degrees. IBM is hiring for the skills or training people with the right aptitude.
Make sure the requirements in your job postings aren’t shutting out excellent potential candidates. Use language that’s inclusive of all tech backgrounds, and don’t make unrealistic demands for five to 10 years of experience. Focus more on providing your existing employees with opportunities for continuous learning and advancement. If you’re not doing this, you’re already behind.
There are tens of thousands of talented people who want to enter tech — they simply haven’t been given the opportunity to do so. This is the biggest reason the skills gap still exists. Once more of these talented individuals have open pathways to learning and more companies value their skills over credentials, that gap will truly begin to close.