The Tech Talent Shortage: Why Your Recruitment Strategy May be to Blame
No matter who’s list you look at (like this one, or this one) STEM programs dominate the list of ‘most useful’ college degrees, with disciplines like web development, software engineering, computer science and data analytics hogging the top spots. Code Camps, both free and paid, promise to turn anyone into a front-end or back-end developer in nine months. Classrooms from university to grade-school promote STEM initiatives.
Because, two things. First, that ‘T’ in STEM stands for technology. Without technology, progress in the S, E, and M aren’t possible. Sure, we could still do long division with pen and paper, but who wants to? Tech not only enables scientific development, it also allows us to shop online, call an Uber, research a topic, and even have an easy ‘out’ when it comes to performing arithmetic. Technology permeates every industry; successful companies recognize this fact.
In 2017, Business Insider quoted Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s Chief Economist, as saying “Any organization today with a mobile app, web presence, or digitized data are struggling to fill jobs like data scientists, software engineers, and mobile developers.” Companies across all industries, including healthcare, finance, and retail, are now ‘tech companies’, whether they realize it or not.
Second, this fact: A shortage of tech workers is already happening and is predicted to reach almost a million unfilled positions by 2030 if current growth continues. The need for software developers alone is expected to rise 30% by 2026. Hiring experts are already sounding the alarm. A survey by Indeed.com stated “Almost 9 in 10 respondents (86%) said they find it challenging to find and hire technical talent, with over a third (36%) saying they find it “very” challenging.”
What Does the Future Look Like for Employers in High-tech Industries?
Ask any recruiter what roles are hardest to fill in 2018 and you won’t be shocked. Tech workers top the list, with Software Developers, Web Designers, Data Scientists, Solutions Architects, and QA Engineers in high demand. Yet, finding the right candidate is a challenge. Why? Because adhering to the outdated paradigm of seeking candidates with experience, rather than potential, is limiting.
Tech evolves daily, which means that what was relevant last week might be less so next week. Hands-on, current experience matters more than technologies that were studied ten years ago. Expectations of ‘experience’ translate into hiring failure when organizations hold fast to requirements such as “x years of experience with z platform”. Talk about limiting your search to applicants stuck in the past!
What about the recent college graduate (millennials, if you must) who don’t have baked-in, preconceived notions about how things are supposed to work? Recent graduates, with a plethora of theoretical knowledge but very little dogma, might just be your ticket to finding employees who are more malleable and more willing to break barriers than the experienced workers. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather work with someone who’s demonstrated adaptability to changing circumstances than one who’s constantly shouting “BUT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT LIKE THIS!”
How Will Companies Have to Adapt to the Changing Values of a New Workforce?
In 2017, millennials became the largest generation in the labor force, surpassing GenXers by 3 million. As a result, organizations who want to benefit from this uniquely motivated cohort should understand their perspective. Millennial attitudes have been shaped by tremendous technological advances and a turbulent political and social climate.
In opposition to commonly held negative views of millennials, here are a few (and maybe surprising) traits of the generation as revealed by research:
- Millennials are curious, and they’re excited to learn new skills. Toiling away at a job just to gain a promotion isn’t a path these folks are interested in. Companies can leverage the millennial desire to expand skill-sets by creating career-development programs offering access to job-related ‘experiences’, rather than a simple ladder to the top.
- Millennials are the digital generation. They grew up with cell phones, the internet and personal computers. Because of this, they prefer to work with companies who are technological innovators. They also learn new technology very quickly so keep that in mind when you’re writing a job description that requires x years of experience with a particular software program. Chances are, most millennials can pick up and master a new software program in a matter of months or even weeks.
- Millennials are collaborative. Provide them with the opportunity to co-create with others in the organization and watch the ideas flow! Equally important to millennial collaboration is organizational transparency. Developing a transparent work environment where employees are aware of work happening throughout the organization encourages this generation to remain vested in organizational success.
- Millennials like feedback, even if it’s not praise. Because they’re curious, and want to improve themselves professionally, they view regular feedback as an important component of professional growth. Try scheduling short weekly or bi-weekly meetings with managers to mentor and provide feedback.
How to Recruit Talented, Adaptable Applicants Regardless of Experience
Anyone can follow steps to solve a problem, but the greatest asset to any business is true agility. Yes, it’s important to find a candidate who can code in a specific language, but finding one who can also learn, adapt and evolve if other digital skills are needed should be the goal of any tech worker recruiting effort. Tech recruiting is hindered by a narrow definition of what a ‘quality-applicant’ looks like. If we only consider metrics like university attended, degree held, and years of experience, we’re missing out on a massive pool of candidates.
Then, there are the non-traditional applicants. These individuals often have the chops to succeed but are disqualified due to ‘circumstance’. Recently, a senior-level manager with our company had the chance to ask a local tech CEO about hiring for potential. The CEO shared a story about one of their best employees, a computer savant who was caught hacking into their college database. They met at a local pizza bistro, where the ‘hacker’ was stuck waiting tables due to their criminal record. The CEO saw potential and took a chance by hiring someone conventionally considered unhirable and was glad they did. That “hacker” is now a top-performer at the company and well-liked by clients.
Non-traditional applicants, from mid-life career switchers with code camp experience to those with skills garnered through decidedly unconventional methods, are an often overlooked and underutilized resource. These people, much like millennials, want to explore new ideas and bring value to their organizations. They can be much more valuable than hiring the applicant who wants to ride out tenure for promotion and retirement.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to define candidate metrics when recruiting for potential, so here are a few ideas:
Test for Skill
- Code challenges are a tool that recruiters can use to evaluate non-traditional candidates for technical prowess and willingness to learn. A code challenge, or some other mock scenario, allows you to get a firsthand look at problem-solving skills, adaptability, and poise under pressure. Even if a candidate doesn’t produce the ‘right’ answer, testing for skill allows recruiters to empirically learn how someone would perform on the job.
Don’t be Afraid of ‘Job-Hoppers’
- Frequent job changes used to be seen as the mark of an unreliable candidate, but the younger generation sees job changes as a way to grow skill-sets. Candidates with a modest diversity of experience are more likely to be adaptable and having diverse experiences can help with problem-solving.
Internally Assess What the Job Entails:
- Take a hard look at the positions’ requirements. Are they nice-to-haves, or must-haves? Clearly define the position’s responsibilities, then look outside the box for ways a person could gain these skills. Think about our pizza-serving hacker example! Interviewers who understand the context of the position in relation to the candidate’s experience can then tailor the interview to explore the candidate’s potential.
Leverage the Value of Training Programs and Mentorship Opportunities
- Formal education is a great foundation, but the application of education to workplace problem-solving is a skill learned through experience and mentorship. While most companies prefer candidates who can hit the ground running, the unfortunate truth is universities often don’t teach to the complexities of modern tech stacks. Recruit emerging talent that can be mentored and cultivated, then provide mentoring programs either internally or externally. Incentivize the desire to learn.
What Does the Tech Talent Shortage Mean for Software Testing?
One of the largest challenges faced by the software quality assurance sector is the deconstruction of traditional development silos. Collaboration among developers, IT professionals and operation engineers has become the norm as methodologies like continuous development and Agile sweep the industry. These development methods call for team members with cross-functional skills, yet at the same time advances in specialized test sectors like automation and security are creating hard-to-fill niche specialties. According to a panel of QA recruiters from a recent Denver SQuAD meeting, employers are looking for testers who have highly technical skills and specialize in a particular discipline such as security, performance, or automation implementation.
What does the tech talent shortage mean for individuals wanting to advance their career as a test engineer? First, commit to staying abreast of QA industry developments. This could mean honing your programming skills, learning a new machine language, or getting experience in automation tools like Selenium. Testers, indeed anyone working in a technical field, can’t afford to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the modern-day tools and techniques being used.
There are plenty of non-traditional, non-university ways to do this. Check out courses by Udemy, Coursera, CodeAcademy, and Treehouse. These sites offer training in everything from basic code and manual testing to specialties in Cybersecurity, Agile testing, and Automation. Manual testing will always be the foundation of quality assurance but moving your capabilities towards fluency in specialized skill-sets is a proven QA career boost.
Companies can support employee development through long-term initiatives with short-term benefits like increased loyalty and improved performance and engagement. Employees want to feel their managers genuinely care and are committed to supporting their professional advancement and even their personal growth. Millennials, in particular, desire support, coaching and paths to advancement. Initiatives could include:
- professional training
- in-house coaching and mentoring
- cross-departmental training and
- ‘soft-skill’ or personal skill development.
One thing is certain, the rapidly changing digital world we live in offers a wider range of opportunities than ever before. Whether you’re a business owner, an employee, or a job-seeker, we now have more ways to learn and to do than ever before. Why get stuck in the past?
If your company is having a hard time finding qualified test automation engineers, test technicians, or test case writers contact us about outsourcing your QA functions.