There aren't enough IT workers to fill the jobs that are currently available, and there will be nowhere near enough new technology graduates to fill future positions — a major issue for startups seeking exponential growth. The explosion in the IT sector in the last twenty years is largely to blame for the shortfall – this is a sector that hardly existed at all 40 years ago and now accounts for over seven percent of the United States' GDP. But it's not just that there are millions more jobs available in technology, it's also that companies aren't always looking for candidates in the right places.
So far, the focus has been on getting young people into STEM, preferably from an early age. The U.S. government and governments in Europe have been working on the education side of things, while companies have been sponsoring or setting up code academies, apprenticeships and internships and working with schools and universities on technology education.
But pushing STEM education won't work in isolation. More and more experts are recommending that startups take a bigger role in finding the talent they need to compete.
Why Companies Must Diversify to Find Tech Talent
In its 2015 report Service Providers are Waging War Against U.S. Talent Shortage With Unconventional Methods, the analyst firm Gartner recommends just that. Companies need to start looking in new places for talent that they can shape and train.
Gartner gives three examples of creative resourcing. The first is to create college or university affiliations, which many companies already do. Helping schools, colleges and universities teach coding and other technology skills to students is a vital part of bridging the skills gap. But it's not something that small companies or startups have the resources for.
The other two creative methods of sourcing talent are increasingly being recommended by experts and they're also the options that can help startups find the staff they need. The advice can be summed up as looking for different people in different places.
There is a well-documented lack of diversity in the IT world and that will have to change if the U.S. hopes to continue to lead in technology.
According to the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report, fewer than 40 percent of students who go to college intending to major in a STEM field complete their degree. There are a number of factors contributing to the dropout rate, including uninspiring introductory courses and difficulty with the level of mathematics required. But there is also a high portion of students who feel unwelcome in the IT sector.
“Many students, and particularly members of groups underrepresented in STEM fields, cite an unwelcoming atmosphere from faculty in STEM courses as a reason for their departure," the report says. "This underrepresented majority is a large potential source of STEM professionals."
Diversification is not just about getting more women and people of color into IT roles, it's about looking at everyone differently. As the IT industry explodes, it's attracting a wide range of people, including those who choose it as a second career, for example. When people think of tech startups, they think of young people just out of college building unicorns. This can stop startups from seeing the value in someone over 50 who has decided to change careers.
Usually, employing someone with that much experience in the working world would be very expensive for a startup, but people who change direction often expect to start at the bottom of the ladder again. That means a startup can source an employee who they may have to help train in IT, but who can offer them years of business acumen.
There's Tech Talent Beyond the IT Industry
Addressing the lack of diversity in the technology sector is a big challenge, but it could carry big rewards in closing the skills gap. But companies can go even further, changing not just who they look at recruiting, but where they look.
Snapping up trained students straight from university is not going to fill the thousands of IT positions that are currently unfilled. Companies need to invest far more time and money into training up the staff they need. This is not the news that startups, with little spare cash to invest in training, want to hear. But the pace of change in the technology world means that even this year's top graduates could be in need of retraining just a few years down the line.
Training staff doesn't have to mean huge financial investment. Many people are open to working with their employer to figure out how to get trained in a cost-effective matter, trading flexible hours for the freedom to do a course for example. But if startups are willing to engage in training as much as they are able, they also open up the possibility of grabbing talent from adjacent fields.
Startups need to start looking at talent in related industry sectors, such as the hard sciences, that have the technological background to be able to retrain easily into IT. They also need to look at different areas within their own companies — and also within their competition. A marketing department hire may want to work for a startup because they harbor dreams of coding, while a sales manager may have bright product ideas they'd like to pursue themselves.
Many of these other areas possess latent talent with an appetite for technological or engineering roles. The combination of related experience and interest can be married with company-led training to create new technologists.
The technology sector is constantly changing, frequently going through paradigm shifts that switch the focus from hardware to software, from owned applications to the cloud, from PC to mobile. Despite these frequent changes, companies, even pioneering startups, often remain committed to traditional methods of recruitment. Technology is a non-traditional world, and every company will need to think outside the box to beat the talent crunch.