You’ve likely heard this one before: In this day and age, all companies are tech companies. Maybe this statement sounded a bit far-fetched at first. But when you’re struggling to build a website, manage a suite of software-as-a-service marketing tools, or create an app for your customers, it’s easy to see the truth in the adage. As consumers become accustomed to high-tech solutions — whether it’s in e-commerce, finance, food and beverage, or any other industry — companies around the world face a forced transformation.
It’s clear that the demand for tech talent from the non-tech sector is on the upswing — but how can hiring managers account for this shifting need? It’s a challenging question, especially considering that non-tech companies are disadvantaged from the start when it comes to hiring, attracting, and retaining the very best and brightest tech talent. With big tech employers such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook soaking up much of the talent pool, even other tech companies experience a talent shortage. It can be difficult for non-tech companies to even know where to start the search.
What’s more, the challenge of hiring tech talent doesn’t just hurt the growth of individual companies — it affects our entire economy. According to a 2018 study from Korn Ferry, the talent shortage in the U.S. financial and business services sector could reach 10.7 million workers by 2030 and potentially cause revenue losses of $1.3 trillion if it isn’t addressed (Source: Korn Ferry, “The Global Talent Crunch,” 2018). The good news is that tech talent is out there — you just have to find it.
Thinking Outside the Tech Bubble
The perfect candidates are out there with the tech skills and aptitude your business needs, but they might not always be the people you’d expect. When Patti Chesler needed a developer with Salesforce knowledge to work for Washington University’s Olin Business School, for instance, she never expected to hire former wine buyer Jennifer Collins.
Chesler found that candidates with Salesforce experience were in high demand and were often snatched up quickly, which made it hard for her to find the right person for her non-tech business. Collins, however, had completed a nontraditional coding training course through LaunchCode and also enrolled in Washington University’s Data Analytics Boot Camp, where she gained the skills necessary for the job. Collins was a natural fit for the role after an apprenticeship at Olin, and Chesler hired her without reservation.
The following four steps can help you expand your scope to find the perfect match for your non-tech company’s tech position — just like Chesler did:
1. Hire learners. No matter what the job description is for your opening, you should try to fill it with someone who is curious and can learn rapidly. To gauge these tendencies, ask candidates about a time they had to learn something very quickly. This will show you whether or not they’re confident when taking on new challenges. Any role is destined to change over time — and this is especially true as we advance toward an increasingly tech-centric future. Even a perfect candidate today will need to adapt to tomorrow’s demands.
2. Look beyond the résumé. You’re a non-tech company, so look for people with non-tech backgrounds. Résumés can offer some valuable information, but you should also look for individuals with life and work experience outside of tech that will translate well in your industry. For example, government agencies might have great luck hiring veterans who learned tech skills later in life. These candidates are likely to have the project management skills and attention to detail that would benefit them in tech jobs. Besides this, many already have the security clearances some government work requires.
3. Find new talent pipelines. If you spend most of your time looking for candidates at job fairs geared toward college graduates, you’re competing with a lot of companies — many of which have bigger hiring budgets and better benefits packages. Look for talent pipelines that might not be tapped as often, whether it’s a program at your local community college or an apprenticeship opportunity you create.
4. Leverage your strengths. You probably can’t compete with big tech in terms of salary or benefits, but you can offer a values-driven mission that attracts younger workers entering the job market for the first time. Studies show that these employees also value diversity and inclusion, so work to make those things a tangible reality in your company. It’s also important to advertise these values so prospects are aware of what you have to offer.
The tech skills gap is real, but the wide range of students LaunchCode has turned into computer programmers has taught us that the pool of talent out there is much bigger than you might think. To hire the tech talent your company requires, you simply need to expand your search beyond traditional talent pools. Once you line up a few promising candidates, focus on hiring the individual — and not just on the resume. Needs change, so it’s important to hire someone who can go with the flow and learn over time rather than just sticking with the skills that might be most ideal from the get-go.
Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode has been recognized for expanding “the tech workforce by providing free coding education to disadvantaged job seekers.” Jeff lives in St. Louis with his wife and twin girls.