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4 ways to diversify your IT hiring pipeline

Diverse teams deliver better results. Here’s how companies are reevaluating their hiring strategies to ensure they’re reaching qualified candidates outside traditional hiring avenues

By Sarah K. White

Senior Writer, CIO | JUL 28, 2021

4 ways to diversify your IT hiring pipeline
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The tech industry has traditionally relied on hiring new talent from colleges and universities, severely limiting its pool for recruiting, as college isn’t accessible to everyone and there are plenty of qualified candidates who may be well past their college graduate years. By hiring with such a narrow focus, organizations miss out on plenty of talented and qualified individuals who do not fit into the current hiring parameters set by leadership.  

A recent research report from Harvard Business School, Accenture, and Grads of Life titled “Dismissed by Degrees” found that, while employers typically pay more for college graduates to fill jobs that are also filled by non-degree holders, there is no “material improvement in productivity” in doing so. Employers will often pay anywhere from 11% to 30% more for candidates with a college degree, yet employers also report that “non-graduates with experience perform nearly or equally well on critical dimensions like time to reach full productivity, time to promotion, level of productivity, or amount of oversight required,” according to the research.

Often, the skills employers look for with a college degree can be taught to any qualified candidate willing to learn on the job, especially through third-party programs designed to connect underrepresented youth with opportunities in the IT job market. Or, you might find a more experienced candidate, one who has been out of the workforce, who can be upskilled or reskilled to meet your current business needs.

Here are four ways your organization can rethink your hiring strategy to fill skill gaps, diversify your workforce, and create more opportunities for traditionally overlooked candidates.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships programs are perfect for organizations looking to diversify their IT talent pipeline and reimagine the hiring workflow. IT apprenticeship programs combine real-life work experience with highly tailored training and education. Unlike internships, which are typically unpaid or offer only college credit, apprentices are paid a set amount while working and training. Companies typically pay to sponsor apprentices with the expectation that their wages will increase as they gain experience.

Accenture, for example, runs an apprenticeship program aimed at bringing in talented young adults who aspire to work in the technology industry. Candidates are typically enrolled in community college programs or they might already have a four-year degree in a non-technical field and want to change career paths without taking on more debt in another four-year program. Apprentices are given the opportunity to “earn while they learn,” and the program opens the talent pool to candidates outside of Accenture’s traditional hiring pipeline.

Typically, candidates in apprenticeship programs are taught not only the hard and soft skills they’ll need to perform their jobs, but also how to navigate corporate environments. Apprenticeship programs, like the one run by Accenture, can also help create networking opportunities for participants by setting up frequent meetings with their cohorts, as well as one-on-one mentorships with those who have already completed the program.

When it comes to hiring new talent, diversity is crucial for bringing innovation and new ideas to the table. Having IT workers who come from a variety of backgrounds, including those with experience outside the tech industry, only stands to strengthen the quality of the products, services, and software that your company will deliver. Apprenticeships can be the perfect way to bring in candidates who might typically fall outside your regular hiring strategy, have them trained on the exact skillset you’re looking for, while opening open the doors to a more diverse workforce.

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Returnships

Unlike apprenticeships, which typically focus on a younger demographic aged 16 to 24, returnships are focused on opening up opportunities to experienced adults who took time off from their careers and are looking to get back into the workforce. These candidates often have extensive work experience but due to a gap in employment, might struggle to get their resumes seen among other candidates. For some returners, it can also be daunting to brush up on new technologies or skills that might not have been job requirements 10 or 15 years ago. Returnship programs acknowledge these workers have the qualifications to re-enter the workforce and that they just need a few extra months of training to help get them up to speed.

While most returnship programs are open to anyone interested, they’re most often utilized by women, as women are more likely than men to take time off to raise children or care for family. This will likely compound in the years ahead, as women in tech bore the brunt of the pandemic, with many losing their jobs or leaving the industry because of the weight of added responsibilities from both work and home.

Because finding one’s way back into IT can be overwhelming, many companies are introducing returnship programs to help connect qualified returners with opportunities. IBM, for example, advertises job listings for returnship candidates who have been out of the workforce for a year or longer. The program brings candidates in for a six-month program where they receive training, mentorship, and hands-on job experience. For many, the program even leads to a job offer from IBM when complete.

T-Mobile offers a returnship program aimed at helping women get back into tech. Participants start with one week of onboarding training through training provider ReacHIRE. From there, returners start full-time work at T-Mobile in the roles they applied for, which includes project management, networking, engineering, technical project oversight, and the technology training team. The program helps reframe transferable skills and gives women the opportunity to seamlessly transition back into the workforce after taking time off of their careers.

Internal training programs

Due to the pace of change, it’s not always realistic to expect to hire new workers with the exact skillset you’re looking for, especially considering the ongoing skill shortage in IT. But chances are, if you look internally, you have plenty of talented workers eager to learn new skills and expand their expertise through training, certifications, and other educational avenues. Reach out to diversity groups within your organization to see whether anyone wants to put in the training to make the shift to IT. Upskilling and reskilling your workers can be a great way to close the skills gap in your organization while utilizing internal talent.

TransUnion is a great example of how sometimes the easiest answer is to turn to talent within your organization. The company has hired hundreds “cloud-native” engineers, but they’ve also hired a third-party training provider to train their workers on several cloud technologies and various cloud certifications. More than 900 of the company’s 3,500-member tech team have completed cloud certifications, reskilling their workforce and tailoring their skillsets to the organization’s needs.

If you’re looking to diversify your management and executive teams, try to identify qualified individuals within your organization who might be working in other roles or departments, but who would be suited for your IT needs with some training or certification. M&T Bank is a company that found itself struggling to diversify teams due to a reliance on outsourcing and contractors, impacting the organizations “ability to inspire others” to join the organization.

The bank decided to tackle its IT talent pipeline issue by partnering with IBM to create the Z Development Program, an internal mainframe apprenticeship program that partners with universities to train recent graduates on the skills needed at M&T. The program consists of a three-month foundation course, followed by a formal 12-month apprenticeship and one year of on-the-job training and additional courses. M&T also created an internal reskilling program that lets internal talent attend coding bootcamps and other training programs that can help grow the organization’s talent, with a focus on those who are from underserved and overlooked communities.

Partnering with diversity organizations

If you don’t know where to start with diversifying your IT talent pipeline, partnering with established organizations dedicated to pairing qualified, underrepresented candidates with opportunities in the tech industry is a good choice. Year Up is one such organization dedicated to helping companies diversify their IT hiring by connecting them with talented and hardworking youth from underserved communities who are eager for an opportunity to start a career in IT.

The “Dismissed by Degrees” report found that “rising demand for a four-year degree for jobs that previously did not require one not only harms U.S. business, but also closes off critical career pathways for millions of middle-skilled Americans.” This effect is particularly harmful for those aged 16 to 24, a demographic that Year Up focuses on empowering in the tech industry. Year Up runs a rigorous training program that involves six months of training for soft and technical skills followed by a six-month internship with a corporate sponsor. Throughout the internship, students are given regular feedback and mentorship, and are given any additional training as needed. The program is designed to take into account each student’s unique situation, ensuring they have every chance to graduate no matter their personal circumstances.

Mikayla Dyer completed a program with Year Up, matching her with an internship as an IT project manager at Morgan Stanley, where she now works full-time as an Agile Scrum master. Dyer says programs like the one run by Year Up presented her the perfect “rare opportunity,” one that she says many young adults like herself don’t always get when they “do not come from traditional recruitment channels [such as elite or private universities].”

And that’s the most important thing you can do when diversifying your IT talent pipeline — focus on creating opportunity. Organizations such as Year Up focus specifically on ensuring that youth from historically underrepresented communities are given the chance to embrace the same opportunities that other young adults get through internships and college programs. Creating programs that circumvent the traditional IT hiring pipelines will help you diversity your workforce, close skills gaps, and create equal opportunities for historically marginalized groups in the tech industry.

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