If the job market had a “Most Wanted” poster, it would most likely have the picture of someone with skills in technology, software development or data analytics. Companies are desperate for these highly desirable skill sets and are competing with top dollar to attract and retain such talent in their organizations.
This demand has created a unique opportunity for non-traditional training platforms like coding academies, software bootcamps or even graduates from online programs like Udemy, LinkedIn Learning or Coursera. Specialized training platforms benefited from the pandemic as many who were out of work leveraged the free time to learn new skills. These platforms provide organizations a new pool of talent, especially organizations unable to compete against firms like Apple, Google or Facebook.
I have an affinity for this type of hiring strategy after my experience facing the trifecta of doom when trying to hire tech talent. The solution to my problems came in the form of a local organization designed to train and certify new tech talent.
But first, let me tell you about my dilemma.
First, we had a limited geographic talent market. Hiring managers were unwilling to pay relocation costs to attract fresh talent into the area. This limitation essentially had the five largest employers swapping talent every one to two years without upgrading the knowledge base. The employee who left making X amount in salary was typically rehired at X+10 thousand with little change to the employee’s skill set or technical skills.
This led to our second problem in the trifecta: retention. We could not keep employees longer than two years which further complicated the gap in the organization. As the company continued to add positions to meet the rising demand in our technology platforms, we faced a disparaging attrition rate, leaving recruiters essentially treading water one month to the next.
Complicating matters, we had a management team who had very narrow views of what a qualified candidate looked like. They were absolutely convinced top talent came from certain skills or particular backgrounds with experience working at certain companies. This narrow mindset made the recruiting process combative as recruiters attempted to attract talent into an organization whose management tied their hands in such a competitive market.
These were the three glaring issues we faced as an organization but as a talent practitioner, I had another concern. There was no diversity in our tech divisions. Part of the problem was driven by the select group of schools we were able to recruit but those in the market who were experienced also lacked diversity.
Faced with what seemed to be an insurmountable task, I began to look for non-traditional organizations or programs we could bridge the gap. I knew I would have to shift the hiring manager mindset in order to be successful but I was convinced there had to be a way to get out of the trifecta of doom.
While on LinkedIn, I began noticing a local Innovation Bootcamp advertising classes for those who were interested in making a career pivot. The organization had three different educational tracks: software development, analytics and general coding. I learned the target market comprised two segments: professionals who had decided to learn a new skill to pivot their career and anyone who wanted to get into the tech market but did not want to go to college.
Over the next couple of months, my team and I began to form a relationship with the director of the center and most of its staff. The curriculum had been developed by functional leaders in the space from some of our biggest competitors. It was less like a college learning environment and typically worked on real world solutions for local organizations. The benefit to the students was hands-on experience and exposure to some of the larger employers in the market. Businesses that partnered with the boot camp also benefited from the work being done by the students, especially considering most of us were starving for talent.
Although my team and I were excited, I knew we still had some work to do to have our managers see this as a valuable source of talent. The boot camp was in need of adjunct professors so we took the opportunity to leverage some of our managers who were looking for development opportunities. I was apprehensive as managers volunteered to offer their expertise, fearing they would somehow find something wrong with the program. To my surprise, most of them fell in love with the program and its students going so far as to become our internal champions.
Over the course of a year, we began hiring more students out of the program into some of our entry-level positions. The skeptics in our organization were finally won over when they began reviewing the quality of work and the attrition rates of our new workforce.
Interestingly enough, we found the quality of work from those in the program typically outperformed those we had recruited from the big, sexy universities. While many of the college graduates spent four years learning software development, the boot camp’s nine month, intensive course with real world applications proved to be a game changer. The employees from the universities had the knowledge but often struggled with the application whereas our boot camp graduates tended to be our most collaborative and productive employees.
As we reviewed attrition rates, recent graduates from large universities typically left within the first year or eighteen months. Our boot camp graduates’ attrition rate ran an average of 5 percent lower than their counterparts. Some of the retention can be attributed to how much more likely they were to be promoted quicker because of their quality of work.
What about our diversity?
The boot camp had several governmental grants which came with very strict diversity measures of the student base. One of the reasons I gravitated towards the program initially was the diversity in the classrooms we visited early on. There were all age groups and multiple representations of ethnicity and gender. As we recruited graduates, the diversity of our teams began to slowly change for the better.
The rules of the talent game have changed and companies have to learn to adapt or die. While the big tech firms’ deep pockets can be intimidating, successful firms will learn how to find alternative ways of sourcing top tech talent to survive. If you underestimate the value in boot camps, training academies or online training platforms, you may find yourself stuck in the trifecta of doom and losing out on a great opportunity to gain top talent.