There are more than half a million open computing jobs in America today, according to code.org, and just about 43,000 computer science graduates who graduated in 2016. Even when factoring in the thousands of qualified developers who graduated from coding bootcamps last year, employers would still be far from shrinking the talent deficit. The technology skills gap in our country is not only undeniable, it has become unmanageable, and will quickly escalate without change from multiple angles.
Aside from encouraging a greater interest in STEM education with improved access to coding programs and tools for future generations, what is a company to do today if it finds itself part of the 71 percent of employers that claim they can’t find suitable technology candidates?
Forward-thinking companies are taking a two-pronged approach: They’re abandoning their hiring biases and scrapping outdated job requirements in order to open their pipelines to newer tech talent, and they’re reinvesting the money saved from hiring less-expensive engineers to create “farm teams” within their organizations — similar to sports franchises — in order to groom probationary hires for permanent spots on their teams.
The key to successfully pulling off the first half of the two-pronged strategy is to break existing patterns at the recruitment level. When recruiters recognize that they’ve hired a highly successful employee, many times they’ll continue to “pattern match” — returning to the same candidate pool to recruit other candidates who look similar on paper.
While there’s nothing wrong with continuing to do something that works, all too often a company will end up building a very homogenous workforce by over-indexing on one particular candidate profile or tapping one particular candidate stream. Breaking this pattern by looking outside of predictable talent sources and seeking people with a broader range of professional and educational experiences will open new talent pipelines, oftentimes filled with potential employees from underrepresented communities in tech.
Refusal to consider more unconventional tech talent is not only a disservice to engineering teams that need diverse perspectives to build the best possible products, it is the epitome of why so many people decide to leave tech or don’t want to go into the industry to begin with.
The second half of the equation is about grooming the new talent recruited from a company’s expanded pipeline. In addition to the original intent of a farm team — to act as a training ground for young players to gain experience in a true-to-life environment where they practice regularly in order to ultimately move to a higher level — the benefits of mentoring nontraditional junior tech talent are many.
First, investing in less-experienced talent that has the foundational coding skills, an appetite to learn and the demonstrated proof that they can quickly pick up new languages and frameworks in order to groom them for the next level has proven cost benefits. Research has shown that promoting current employees saves thousands of dollars compared to finding new employees, especially for companies looking for mid- to senior-level engineering talent. And, the alternative of hiring freelance coders on an hourly basis can be even more costly.
The second benefit to hiring and nurturing unconventional talent is employee loyalty. It is much easier for a company to cultivate employee satisfaction by committing to a junior tech employee’s career and salary progression — both key factors for employee retention — than it is to commit to the same for a new mid- to senior-level engineer, especially if the company has already paid top dollar to lure him or her away from the stiff competition.
Finally, there is a greater likelihood of team and culture cohesion when hiring and mentoring tech talent from an alternative training platform like a coding bootcamp. A company’s ability to “raise” fresh tech talent primed to adapt and eager to prove itself in the workplace is much greater that its ability to integrate a more seasoned engineer with a set way of working — that likely includes ingrained habits, both technical and cultural. Grooming newly trained engineers to be comfortable with a proprietary tech stack, a particular delivery cadence and a company’s cultural values results in a shorter and more seamless onboarding process and quicker contributions to the team.
So why aren’t more companies adopting this two-part approach? Perhaps it is a hesitation to invest in today’s temperamental generation of millennial workers. Or perhaps it is the fact that some top companies aren’t even considering hiring junior developers from alternative training programs because they are stymied by misperceptions about the quality of bootcamp grads.
But companies like LinkedIn, Intuit, Adobe and GE that are experimenting with tech apprenticeship programs in order to build their own farm teams are beginning to recognize the value in addressing their skills gap and pipeline issues before the problems worsen. As 2017 progresses, more companies will catch on to the benefits of building their own engineering farm teams filled with diverse bootcamp grads instead of ruthlessly competing against one another for the small handful of homogenous computer science grads and mid- to senior-level engineers who are constantly on the lookout for the next, better-paying opportunity.
Tarlin Ray is president of Dev Bootcamp, the first short-term, immersive coding bootcamp, and leads all facets of day-to-day operations for the company. He previously served as the organization's COO and VP of business development and corporate strategy for Dev Bootcamp and Metis, a leading provider of data science skills training and Dev Bootcamp’s sister program under Kaplan’s New Economy Skills Training division. For more than 18 years, Ray has held key roles within Kaplan in operations, sales and marketing, as well as leadership positions in several early-stage companies, including T.w.I.S.M., The Groove Alliance and Virgin Charter. Reach him @devbootcamp.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.