Tech companies are experiencing an unparalleled — and well-publicized — talent shortage.
Christina is a senior education program manager at GitLab, where she leads the GitLab for Education Program. She brings over 20 years of experience to the intersection of teaching, learning and tech. She has a passion for connecting industry to higher education with the goal of preparing the next generation for success in the modern workforce. She has extensive experience building programs and strategy to drive the adoption of technology within the broader higher education ecosystem.
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Survey 2020 reported that 55% of companies surveyed identify skills gaps in the local labor market as the main barrier to the adoption of new technologies. After decades of conversations around improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry in the United States and globally, many organizations have come to the conclusion that old practices and standards of hiring are holding the industry back from reaching its truest potential.
The time has come for the technology industry to reevaluate hiring practices and develop new, more accessible pipelines for talent, to drive inclusivity, as well as generate more sustainable forms of sourcing talent.
GitLab has partnered with WeThinkCode, a South Africa-based nonprofit coding academy that trains cohorts of future software engineers in a 20-month, tuition-free program. Funded by sponsorships from local corporates across ICT and various industries, the program prepares African youth from underrepresented communities for full-time employment at tech companies.
Nyari is the CEO of WeThinkCode, a South African tech academy. As an entrepreneur and tech executive, Nyari is passionate about seeing Africa take its place as a maker of cutting-edge technology. She has accelerated the recruitment of women students to the point of parity within the academy, doubled recruitment capacity and launched a home-grown curriculum that caters to the South African market.
Entering the technology field can open up a world of opportunities for young people from marginalized communities, particularly in South Africa where youth unemployment is over 60%.
Despite the opportunity that the tech industry presents, in many cases, these people are unaware that positions at tech companies are even attainable. Furthermore, it can be challenging for them to gain roles without some kind of a university degree, which are often cost-prohibitive.
Although it may seem like a degree from a top college or university is the only way to adequately prepare for a role, the pace at which tech-skilled graduates are entering the workforce is not keeping up with market demand. Today, in the tech industry, there is a new crop of alternative, or nontraditional, education systems like WeThinkCode that can help to meet the growing demand for tech skills.
It’s critical that tech companies big and small begin investing in their talent pipelines at the foundational level. This is two-fold: while there is an existing moral responsibility for enterprises to open the doors to the lucrative, constantly evolving, and opportunity-filled world of tech, there is also a business case to be made when considering how tech companies can contribute to the pool of talent that can someday join their ranks and contribute positively to company growth.
Let’s walk through some of the benefits of nontraditional education, how companies can best engage with emerging talent and some of the key pillars of a skills-based training program.
Benefits of a Nontraditional Background
For years, a four-year degree in computer science was the bare minimum to enter the technology industry. Although university education can be fulfilling and provide foundational knowledge for tech workers, it’s important to acknowledge that a significant portion of the industry gains new skills outside of traditional education. Notably, a study from Stack Overflow found that nearly 60% of respondents learned to code from online platforms.
Because technology as an industry is constantly evolving, some level of continuous self-taught instruction is required. Coding academies can take the natural organic momentum of this self-led education and add structure to the process. This helps streamline the wealth of information available online, harness the way people naturally learn and help validate the curriculum so that hiring organizations understand their candidates’ skill sets.
A nontraditional tech program or boot camp allows students to build on their existing skill set without needing to start over with a university program.
As the technology industry melds with other industries to create segments like health tech, fashion tech and retail tech, having a nontraditional background can actually be an asset for new employees. A nontraditional tech program or boot camp allows students to build on their existing skill set without needing to start over with a university program. Additionally, boot camps allow for a more practical approach to learning, as the curriculum is tailor-made to prepare students for employment.
Engaging with New Talent
Organizations are often at a loss when it comes to identifying new talent pipelines, whether that’s talent new to the workforce or workers who have been circulating in the industry for years. For this reason, partnerships between enterprises and educational institutions are paramount.
Tech companies are at the forefront of innovation, creating new platforms and opportunities for students to learn every day. By partnering with bootcamps and other initiatives, they can translate this innovation into educational content that can be used to teach and train new workers. This creates a virtuous, ongoing ecosystem between educators, enterprises and students.
When developing a curriculum, educators should clearly identify how the program can provide the most value both to students and to hiring organizations.
Despite ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts, many recruiters continue to look for the same patterns in tech workers — often male, with wealthier, university-educated backgrounds. In actuality, there isn’t just one demographic or personality type that can excel in this industry. With baseline traits of curiosity, logical thinking, grit, and basic numeracy and literacy skills, an individual can be trained with the skills to positively contribute within an organization.
Developing a Training Program
The core objective of any educational program should be to equip people with the competencies that are most relevant to a successful career in the technology industry. When developing a curriculum, educators should clearly identify how the program can provide the most value both to students and to hiring organizations. To make this value chain sustainable and applicable to the modern, constantly evolving technology ecosystem, organizations must start with the end goal: identifying the most relevant skills needed for placement in a specific industry.
The most sought-after skills will continue to evolve to reflect the ebbs and flows of technology industry trends. GitLab’s DevOps in Education 2021 Survey survey found that the top skills taught alongside a DevOps platform are CI/CD, collaboration and communication, and application development and design. Educational institutions should work with enterprises on an ongoing basis to ensure that the curriculum is aligned with ongoing business and industry needs.
The Future of the Enterprise-Education Ecosystem
In the seven years since WeThinkCode was established, the institution has placed over 500 program graduates in tech positions, with a 93% job placement rate postgraduation. As a result, its alumni network has grown into a team of ambassadors advocating for the program and its students.
One student, Alyson Ngonyama, worked primarily in administrative roles before joining WeThinkCode. During her tenure, she was awarded the Good Fellowship Award and joined the DotModus team as a software engineer shortly after graduating. Alyson has cited the program as “the most life-changing two years of my life,” noting that she has “an expanding career as a software engineer.”
Recently, WeThinkCode was participating in a partnership pitch meeting with a potential enterprise sponsor. Shortly into the meeting, a member of the enterprise team paused the pitch to share his own background as a WeThinkCode alumnus. These full-circle moments and the proven delivery outcomes further validate GitLab’s mission of providing widespread access to the incredible opportunities that the tech industry has to offer.
The technology industry is at an important turning point: The past few years have changed the way we think about where and how we work. With the Great Resignation passing through the industry, it’s critical that we also reassess how we hire and how we can better invest in the next generation of tech talent.