Training's place in the tech talent wars
How do I deal with the war for technology talent? My background as a self-taught developer serves as the foundation of my approach to managing people and establishing career development programs.
I trained myself to develop software at 15 years old, at a time when there was no internet and I was growing up in the small town of Mendoza, Argentina. If you wanted to learn something, someone had to teach you, or you had to read a book. It was difficult not having the technology or software tools that we now take for granted, but I worked hard at it and learned.
Today, companies struggle to fill many new technology positions which did not exist just a few years ago. Research from the Manpower Group recently found that 40 percent of global employers report talent shortages. That's despite the fact that employers can draw from a global market to hire highly-qualified individuals.
When the question of “when to train and when to hire?” comes up, I always say: it’s a false dichotomy. You have to hire and you have to train.
In the early days of my company, Belatrix Software, in the 1990s, we struggled to find people with the technical skills, qualifications, or experience that we needed. This experience, combined with my personal background, led us to our taking much greater responsibility for training our people. We could not rely on universities or the government to do this for us. Proactive CIOs today take the same approach to talent management.
They invest heavily in their people – offering both formal and informal training, and empowering individuals with self-learning tools. Your strategy needs to address both career development for your employees and education for the broader community.
Belatrix, for example, visits students starting at a young age: We have introduced a scholarship program for elementary students where we invite the winners to visit our offices once a month. We also visit high school students and teach them how to program, encourage them to enter the technology industry, and show how “cool” a tech career can be. We foster deep relationships with universities, from offering internships to students to having our experts give workshops and talks.
Today, both students and mid-career professionals can take advantage of massive open online courses (MOOCs), such as those offered by Coursera, Udacity, and Pluralsight. These courses offer learning opportunities at little or no cost, giving individuals power to transform their lives and careers – something I could only dream of as a young professional. Of course, online courses don't obviate the need for in-house, career-accelerating training programs. We offer associates an average of 120 hours of formal training each year.
We encourage people to participate in cross-training to learn skills from colleagues in other business functional areas. Sharing your knowledge with co-workers is so valuable because it’s done without formality. We have brown-bag training sessions, where during lunch, someone will give a TED-style talk on something they’re passionate about. We believe this creates a permanent cross- training between employees, as people share the expertise they have developed.
Finally, as the tech industry continues to struggle with hiring and training the talent we need, I believe we need to do better at promoting the benefits of tech careers. It’s an industry characterized by well-paid, fulfilling jobs. This is the message we should be hammering home across schools and universities. Students need to know they will see a return on their training investment. My experience learning to develop software when I was fifteen is a very personal testament to this.