To Find Top Tech Talent, Get Creative
By Loren Berlin
When Liran Weizman’s college professor told her she lacked the necessary skills to have a future career in technology, she believed him. A double major in psychology and public relations, she’d only started learning to write computer code during her senior year of college in an effort to stifle her restlessness with her studies. Unexpectedly, Weizman discovered she loved writing code, and though she crammed in enough classes her last year of school to add a coding minor, she remained a rookie relative to her peers who’d majored in computer sciences.
So when a friend emailed her a flyer for Tech Connect, a recruitment program for undergraduates with nontraditional backgrounds interested in pursuing technology careers at JPMorgan Chase, Weizman spent three months perfecting her application.
“No one thought a tech job was in the cards for me,” says Weizman. “Not even my family. My parents kept asking me why I was taking so long on this one application and when was I going to start applying for other jobs.”
Weizman’s diligence paid off with admittance to Tech Connect, and in June 2015, she began the multi-week program, which provides specialized Java training, coaching from senior business leaders, and networking opportunities to help build a career with JPMorgan Chase. She has been working as a technologist at the organization ever since.
Tech Connect was created to identify underrepresented tech talent and is one of several talent pipeline strategies JPMorgan Chase uses to develop, attract, and recruit top technology talent at a time when companies are battling one another for the best and brightest. They’re not alone, though. Driving the talent wars is the evolving nature of technology companies.
Once reserved primarily for scientific and engineering firms, the label “technology company” now accurately describes virtually every large organization as companies across every industry have turned to technology to make, market, or deliver their products. In just the next five years, large companies will make technology-related investments averaging hundreds of millions of dollars and some upwards of a billion dollars, according to McKinsey & Company.
Corporations’ ever-increasing reliance on technology has created demand for topnotch technologists that greatly outstrips supply, a labor shortage that is expected to significantly widen in coming years. Employers are responding by innovating new strategies to identify and retain the best talent.
“Like every company, we want a diverse workforce, and for us that includes people who think differently,” explains Ali Marano, the Head of Technology for Social Good, Diversity & Inclusion, Global Technology, JPMorgan Chase who also oversees Tech Connect. “Someone who isn't traditionally trained in computer science will approach problems and technology with a diversity of thought that is uncommon to our global technology organization. We value those unique perspectives and we are confident we can provide them additional training and support to prepare them for our traditional Technology Analyst Program.”
Marano added, “We also know that the global career landscape is changing fast due to swift advances in technology and we want to play a role in preparing today’s workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.”
The bulk of the technology workforce is millennials, for whom Google, Facebook and Amazon are household names. For companies that may not immediately come to mind as tech companies, who have open roles that would be appealing to tech talent, recruitment may begin by re-introducing the company to potential employees and demonstrating the role that technology plays in their business.
“This generation of students doesn’t necessarily know Lockheed Martin [and hasn’t grown up with it] as their parents did,” explained Steve Hatch, Lockheed Martin’s director for central talent acquisition, in an interview with The Seattle Times. “As we look at the competition, how do we go attract that talent sooner?”
For Lockheed Martin, the answer lies in reaching out to potential employees earlier in their education to get them excited about STEM and connect that excitement to Lockheed Martin. Last year, the aerospace giant launched Generation Beyond, an education program designed to get middle school students excited about space exploration and encourage them to study science and math. In addition to providing a downloadable STEM curriculum for educators and lessons for parents to complete with their kids, Generation Beyond hosts student competitions about missions to Mars, offers app-based virtual tours of the red planet, and tours its “Mars Bus,” a traveling school bus that has been reconfigured to simulate the Martian landscape.
Other employers appeal to millennials’ sensibilities and values. IBM, one of the nation’s oldest technology companies, runs videos of twenty-somethings talking about their work at the company. Similarly, General Electric, the multinational conglomerate that manufactures everything from kitchen blenders to renewable energy, speaks to millennials’ desire to make the world a better place by advertising the ways their engineers help to deliver health care and electricity to remote and underserved communities.
Employers are also working to find technologists who may otherwise slip through the cracks. For example, a consortium of five large companies, SAP, Microsoft, EY, DXC Technology (formerly Hewlett-Packard Enterprise), and JPMorgan Chase, are collaborating to develop practices for hiring and retaining people on the autism spectrum. The partnership developed as a way to help address the unusually high unemployment rate among people with autism: 42 percent of 20-somethings with autism are unemployed, as compared to 26 percent of their counterparts without intellectual disabilities, according to the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 and the Survey of Pathways to Diagnosis and Services. And it's not for lack of ability. One JPMorgan Chase study found that software testers on the autism spectrum regularly worked faster than their peers.
“For most people on the autism spectrum, the fact that they are unemployed has nothing to do with their intelligence, ability, or aptitude,” explains James Mahoney, head of JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work program. “Instead, it’s because they fall out during traditional interview techniques because of differences in communication.”
The consortium is working to remedy that with interview techniques designed specifically for people on the autism spectrum, and relevant trainings for employees and managers working with employees on the autism spectrum.
The program isn't a handout, Mahoney adds. It benefits the entire workplace, new and existing employees alike, in the same way that creating pipelines for candidates from nontraditional academic tracks creates more diversity of thought and brings in new skill sets.
The talent wars are only going to intensify in coming years. Top engineers can be up to ten times more productive than their less skilled counterparts, resulting in “double-digit investment savings,” estimates Steve McConnell, a software development thought leader. The employers that stand the best chance of attracting top talent are those who are not only able to innovate new technologies, but can also innovate new ways to find and employ people to manage them.