Old fashioned processes and approaches to human resources are hampering organisations from employing the technologists they need to become relevant digital businesses in 2018. Business technology leaders have discussed the ‘skills gap’ for the last five years, although there is a shortage of skills, recruitment and employment practices are exacerbating the issue.
“We need to see companies really begin to invest in people and to put a stop to this reactive culture that will be self perpetuating, because if you don’t support the juniors where are you going to find the seniors of tomorrow?” Patrick Crompton, CEO and co-founder of eSynergy Solutions tells the Horizon CIO Podcast. Crompton and his organisation began as a “traditional recruitment company” but today is “delivering software outcomes through our communities”. Customers include CIOs at major government departments like HMRC, traditional bank HSBC and financial services challengers Nutmeg.
“It would be almost impossible to deny that there is a skills gap. There is a huge skills gap, but there is also a challenge in the approach for CIOs, HRs and there is a disconnect in that approach,” Crompton says of whether the skills gap issue really exists.
“For every candidate we get a minimum of five offers,” Crompton says as an example of the skills gap and he believes it is the processes of many organisations that means four of those five organisations miss out on the talent they desire. He adds that the rate of change in technology means that certain technologies and skills fall out of favour as rapidly as they enter demand and that is increasing the challenge for CIOs.
“At one end of the pipeline you have companies busy fire-fighting, trying to get the best talent from a pool that is ever decreasing. But they have very specific requirements for experienced people who can come in and get on with a problem with very little input from the companies, but the consequence is they have no capacity to manage an intake of juniors, says Nathalie Christmann-Cooper, a Full Stack Rails Developer with Skills Matter, the technology community and events organisation.
Christmann-Cooper has first hand experience of how challenging it can be for a newly qualified technologist to enter the workforce, despite having skills in one of the most sought after technologies.
“It is very difficult to open those doors. I have seen job specs with what I feel are a really unrealistic set of requirements for a junior, but they want three years plus experience, they ask for a computer science degree,” she says of a miss-match between organisations wanting people with the latest technology skills, but applying old school thinking in terms of qualifications and work experience.
eSynergy Solutions’ Crompton says: “There is some very outdated hiring processes that take too much time to hire people, I don’t think there is a reasonable understanding of what is out there on the market, there is very very little flexibility and there is a serious lack of understanding of what candidates want.
“There is a lot of talk about millennials, it is understanding what this generation want and expect, which was not relevant 10 years ago and is absolutely relevant now. If you don’t offer those things they will not work for you and your organisation, they will go and work for Google or Facebook,” Crompton says.
“You can draw a lot of parallels with what has happened over the last 15 years. If you look at software development it was traditional waterfall methodology where you would capture the requirements, you would define the specs and that could take a year to 18 months before you even develop any software. If you take a look at these organisations like Facebook and Google they are delivering software every day. So these software processes are defining the way that you hire people and the way that they are trained,” he says.
Christmann-Cooper adds: “As technologists some of the onus is on us, we need to have an area of expertise, but to be successful you have to understand the bigger picture and how your specialism fits not only in the business, but also in the wider picture of how your customers are thinking and reacting to what you build and develop.”
Crompton believes organisations face no alternative but to modify how they treat staff and recruit them: “There is a handful of ways that you can build teams. You can either build teams yourself, you can hire contractors or you can go to traditional systems integrators and consultancies, unlike 10-15 years ago they do not have a bunch of developers sat on the bench waiting to be engaged as they cannot keep hold of their developers. All of these angles are coming under scrutiny in their ability to deliver software effectively.
“You are having to change and adapt and look at new roots. Organisations are missing out on a huge pool of talent by only being very blinkered about their approach, by saying I can only hire senior experienced people, if you are prepared there are options out there to consider it, there is a blended approach,” he says.
Diversity beyond gender
“There is plenty of people coming through from the more disruptive learning pathways like the coding bootcamps,”
Christmann-Cooper says. “And you have a complete diverse mix of students they are not all computer science based, it is less conventional candidates that have lots of important soft skills to bring to the mix.
“Remember diversity is not just a discussion about gender, it is age, accessibility, culture and background experience. People are looking at having three to five career changes in a life time,” she says.
To prove the point CEO Crompton has lost team members to new careers. “Four or five of our recruitment consultants have retrained as DevOps or software engineers. But what a great opportunity after seven or eight years in one industry to change careers.
“There is a bunch of extra skills that they have, the interpersonal skills, the business skills, customer experience that they have learnt and then have moved into technology, it is fabulous for the industry,” he says.
“Skillsmatter they have done a really good job of attracting a really diverse workforce. This is the first job I have had in over 20 years and not once while I have been there have I felt out of place; and it is just such an inspiring place to work,” Christmann-Cooper says.
“I think the diversity piece stems from people not really understanding what diversity is – it is not just one set of people,” Crompton says of those that over focus on the important need to increase gender diversity. “The problem with diversity is a lot of people do not buy into the fact that it genuinely creates a better work environment. I genuinely believe it does. The best software engineering teams we create are diverse in relation to everything, in all areas,” Crompton says.
“There are so many different perspectives you can bring to a problem,” Christmann-Cooper adds. “Society is diverse and you have to reflect that in your teams otherwise you will not reflect that to your customer.”
Major insurance business Aviva has recruited eSynergy Solutions to help the general insurance business build more diverse teams. Aviva recognised eSynergy Solutions unique abilities and its partnership with Skillsmatter and the community events to help Aviva attract a diverse workforce.
eSynergy Solutions has seen examples of organisations trying to recruit women engineers, they get some great candidates apply, but they then face an all male recruitment panel.
“They are not going to take that job because there is no female role models in those organisations. You are not going to attract that talent, so we are working with Aviva about how can we address that problem and then put some measurable metrics around it and then the final stage is how they share their story with the community so other people can learn,” Crompton says.
“It was Dr Sue Black who was a role model for me because she was relatable and real and she was the first person who made me realise it was possible,” Christmann-Cooper says of the need for role models.
Both Crompton and Christmann-Cooper are far from negative about the diversity issue though: “We are in one of the best positions we have been in. The fact that there is a bunch of events and meetups that celebrate diversity and offer ways to get involved. You go back 10 years ago that didn’t exist,” the eSynergy Solutions CEO says.
Christmann-Cooper agrees: “The meetup community is so strong now and it is really supportive and encouraging, so if you are not strong or confident, get along to these meetups they will really give you a boost.