Technical Skills Gap: Time to Think Out of the Box - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
12/9/2019
07:00 AM
Stephanie Herrera, Global Vice President, Computer Futures
Stephanie Herrera, Global Vice President, Computer Futures
Commentary
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Technical Skills Gap: Time to Think Out of the Box

There's a clear way to fill the ever-growing technical skills gap, and it starts with the hiring managers thinking a bit differently than they have in the past.

Last month, I attended and spoke at Dreamforce 2019 -- Salesforce’s premiere conference featuring upwards of 170,000 customers, partners, employees and stakeholders -- and was surrounded by its vast and rapidly growing partner ecosystem. Going from sessions to events to career panels and keynotes and speaking with many of these companies poised on the verge of growth, one key topic of conversation was that millions of new tech jobs are being generated, and how businesses will fill them.

The workplace and the skills required across industries are changing rapidly, yet there simply aren’t enough traditionally skilled applicants to fill these roles because technology is evolving faster than the traditional workforce. According to Pew Research Center, employment in STEM occupations has grown 79% since 1990 -- increasing from 9.7 million to 17.3 million, outpacing overall U.S. job growth.

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Companies that remain rigid in seeking only traditional 9-5 workers for jobs in IT/cloud/SaaS specialties are going to lose precious speed, agility, functionality and responsiveness. They will also lose money in the race to staff the millions of job openings for their Salesforce deployments alone.  

There is, however, a clear path forward, which doesn’t involve sacrificing money, time or talent. There are plenty of skilled workers ready to “plug in and play”. Companies and hiring managers just need to think a bit differently to hit their staffing goals.

Enter the non-traditional, skilled worker talent pool. This cohort is comprised of certified and soft skill-rich minorities, veterans looking to upskill, spouses of veterans looking to finally focus on themselves and launch a career or bring in supplemental income, Boomers looking to retain income, Gen Z kids eschewing the traditional 4-year degree, and more. These workers may not have the 10+ years of technical computer science experience that hiring managers have had the luxury of seeking in the past, but what they do have are all the necessary technical certifications, transferrable skills from previous experiences, or soft skills they’ve built serving in other careers or in the military, making them ideal candidates for hire.

As someone who sat squarely in this group many years ago, and as a minority, at times a single parent, a woman, who in 1998 was still looking for opportunities to break into the tech industry, I have a few thoughts to share with hiring managers who are looking to quickly and successfully staff up to meet their company’s rising staffing needs.  Since 2014 I’ve also been founding and volunteering for organizations that focus on skilling up and placing these untraditional workers in jobs via PepUp Tech, Merivis, Salesforce Women in Tech community groups and Salesforce Saturday, so I’ve seen first-hand what can be achieved. 

1. Take stock of your talent and skills priorities.

It’s time to recognize that a degree in computer science and 10+ years of technical software experience are not the only qualifications a person needs for a successful career in the tech industry.

What qualities are most important today? Skills and certifications need to take priority over number of years.

Soft skills are also critically important: Does the candidate know how to collaborate, to communicate their ideas, to think creatively in the face of problems that must be solved, to self-motivate? Many studies today show that these are the skills that make people stand out once the technical skills playing field is levelled -- and candidates who are former military or who have come from different backgrounds or who have overcome life challenges are often in full possession of these skills.

2. Diversify the team.

While a hiring manager likely wouldn’t want a full team of non-traditional hires, they likewise shouldn’t seek a full team of traditional hires. There’s so much for a long-time IT professional to learn from a team member who’s just starting in IT after a career in another field or the military, and vice versa. These workers upskill each other without even trying. Some of the most qualified professionals -- in tech or otherwise -- are those who bring transferrable skills from other industries and experiences. For example, a veteran knows the importance of discipline/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration, managing up and contributing to a larger goal. A non-college educated minority who has spent years in the customer service industry knows the value of hard work, clear communication, resilience and perseverance. Technical skills can be taught and certified for, but valuable life experiences are key to creating a team that is cohesive, eager and able to grow.

3. Update hiring processes to include non-traditional workers.

The workforce is evolving, and the hiring processes need to reflect this shift. Hiring managers need to reevaluate their hiring process to also attract the non-traditional skilled worker. This might mean being open to bringing on excellent, qualified candidates who live out of state and creating a flexible work policy, for example. By adapting to the wants and needs of this new talent pool, hiring managers can ensure that they are attracting the best possible candidates.

Companies must understand that the skills gap will only continue to widen if they don’t adapt quickly. From 2017 and 2027, the number of STEM jobs will grow 13%, compared to 9% for non-STEM jobs. Organizations must start investing in the non-traditional worker if they expect to attract and retain the necessary talent as the demand for technical jobs continues to grow. When organizations invest in these non-traditional yet highly skilled candidates, they are in turn creating a culture that values leadership, initiative, perseverance and resilience, and are setting their organization up for success.

Stephanie Herrera’s list of achievements and contributions to the Salesforce Ohana has led to her being named a Salesforce MVP. In 2015, she founded Salesforce Saturdays, which helps grow individual skill sets through peer mentorship within the Salesforce platform -- and that has now grown to 50 new chapters across the globe. She is on the board of directors for the Merivis Foundation, which helps veterans and their partners into a career in Salesforce. In 2016 she was shortlisted as a finalist for Mentor of the Year in Austin’s Under 40 Awards, and in 2017 Herrera and her co-founders of PepUp Tech were given the TrailheaDX Equality Trailblazer Award by Salesforce. Earlier this year, Herrera joined Computer Futures as its Global Vice President of Salesforce Practice.

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