From education to employment

Why we need to look outside traditional talent pools to address the #skills gap

Katie George, Recruitment Programs Lead, AWS

Finding the right people with the right skills for the digital age can be a challenge.

Some organisations are investing in developing the skills of the people they already employ, while others are looking at creative incentive packages to attract top talent.

But another major opportunity for businesses large and small, is cultivating diversity as a strategy.

A strategy that looks beyond traditional avenues to attract a wider pool of candidates, and gives more people, from more diverse backgrounds, the chance to build a career in the technology industry.

Why focus on diversity?

By devising a new approach for workforce development, for those outside of traditional talent pools, organisations can tap into a vast array of high-potential, and underutilised, talent, and make significant strides in closing the skills gap. This investment is not only necessary, it’s the right thing to do.

Having more diverse teams offers a unique opportunity to address the skills gap by looking beyond what is considered the norm. Organisations with a diversity strategy can access a wider pool of talent, with differing cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences. All of this brings new perspectives on how to do things, which ultimately drives innovation and growth.

In this competitive hiring environment, many organisations are looking for candidates with specific digital skills. Taking a traditional approach to finding them often means this pool is limited. Organisations need to think differently about how, and where to look for talent, if they want to be competitive.

For example, looking at ways to attract people who want to return to work after a long break, or investing in recruiting activities at minority-focused job fairs, or at universities with diverse student populations to reach a broader set of candidates.

The University of East London (UEL) for example is creating a UEL Career Zone and UEL Innovation Loft. This will drive innovative ways of learning and increase the employment-preparedness of its diverse graduates, equipping students with the latest technical knowledge, critical thinking, and decision-making skills needed to be successful in the digital economy.

As well as thinking carefully about where to advertise, organisations also need to consider how to word the job description. They need to be mindful of the language used in job descriptions to make sure that a broad range of applicants not only learn about a particular job opening but feel like they are welcome to apply.

Recent research from WISE (Campaign for Gender Balance in Science, Technology and Engineering) on the barriers to women pursuing careers in ‘innovation’ found that the words ‘innovation’ or ‘innovator’ do not inspire women to get involved. Phrases such as ‘problem solving’, ‘making a difference’, ‘improving people’s lives’, ‘having a positive, lasting impact’ and ‘simplifying the complex’, had much more resonance. Countless studies have shown that diverse and inclusive organisational cultures do much better at innovation, which is the centrepiece of digital transformation.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “new research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth.” It says companies having what they call “2-D diversity” out-innovate and out-perform others, are 45% more likely to grow their market share, and 70% more likely to capture new markets.

A diverse workforce provides a deeper understanding of customers and is the key to unlocking new ideas. Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture means that people across the organisation are not only confident in speaking up, but that they are heard, and their recommendations are appropriately considered. This results in a better working environment for everyone.

Opening the door

We all have a responsibility to encourage people, regardless of their background, to consider careers in technology. Providing them with the tools and skills set to do so is a first step to driving a more diverse workforce that will power the businesses of the future.    

The AWS re/Start digital skills initiative is one example of this. Working with the Princes Trust, Generation, and Ministry of Defence (MoD) the program educates young adults as well as military veterans, and their spouses, on the latest cloud computing technologies.

The aim is to build local talent by providing accessible cloud skills development and job opportunities to underserved populations. Participants don’t need any prior experience. They receive training for entry-level, front-line cloud roles, including technical knowledge as well as behaviours and mind-sets. Each individual is guaranteed an interview for a full time, permanent role, with mentors and trainers helping them to prepare.

Challenging stereotypes

Busting myths at an early age will encourage more people to consider a career in technology. This is particularly true for inspiring more girls into the tech industry, and it’s why we launched AWS Get IT. The programme helps young people from diverse backgrounds, especially girls, to gain practical digital skills, while inspiring them to consider a career in technology.

It has two complementary strands:

  1. The first is a competition that challenges 12 to 13-year-olds (year 8) to come up with an innovative idea for an application to help to solve a specific problem for their community, or school.
  2. The second is a targeted program of public speaking training, designed to raise the profile of women already working in tech roles – starting with our own female employees. Those on the programme receive executive-level coaching, and subsequent speaking opportunities, to elevate them as role models.

For organisations looking to transform digitally, diversity is vital – for innovation, for accessing essential skill sets, for creating competitive advantage, and ultimately, for bottom-line results.

Attracting and retaining people with the right skills, or the potential to develop them, requires not only a proactive, but also an innovative, approach to recruitment. We all need to think about alternative ways of looking for candidates, rather than only following the same old formula and then wondering why we keep getting the same results.

Katie George, Recruitment Programs Lead, AWS

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