The Not So Ugly Sisters of Tech
Whereas millennials are described as tech-savvy, Gen Z, those born between 1995-2010, are the first generation that are true digital natives. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that nowadays jobs in tech are all the rage. No longer boring or nerdy, but an industry full of innovation and discovery – there’s practically a new gadget or app on the market every other week.
A 2016 global study found that, instead of pursuing lucrative careers in finance, today’s young people are headed for the tech industry. And this trend is still growing at pace – 1.56 million people in the UK are now working in the tech sector. Add to that the glorification of working within the M4 corridor, as well as the hype around start-up culture, Gen Z wants a piece of the tech-pie.
But here is the thing – tech isn’t all office slides, free pizza Friday and app development. There are areas in the industry that are still deemed to be mostly ‘unsexy’ and therefore often don’t even get a mention. MultiValue (MV) for example is not something most budding techies have on their radar. But according to Elkie Holland, Managing Director and Recruitment Consultant at Prospectus IT Recruitment, MV can make for a very lucrative career. Elkie says “Youngsters who train up in MultiValue technology (a type of NoSQL and multidimensional database), can enjoy a meteoric rise through the pay scales”. This might not have been a major draw for more idealistic millennials, but Gen Z is very much finance-conscious. So this gives candidates a real opportunity. But where can recruiters like Elkie find the talent to fill MV positions. And do we perhaps have to change our attitudes towards hiring in the more niche areas of tech?
Lack of awareness
AI, blockchain, IoT, big data, cloud, and automation. There’s no mention here of MV. Young people who are entering the industry are simply not aware of all their opportunities. This can create a real problem for companies. On average, next-gen developers are skilled in Python and Java, but not BASIC, a language that was marked for death five years ago and is crucial for MV developers. But just like the regularly declared ‘dead’ mainframe, BASIC had somewhat of a renaissance with Basic.NET and is sticking around. But the people who can work with the language belong to a generation that is looking forward to their well-deserved retirement. And young people with MV experience are called unicorns for a reason.
Part of the work for companies to do is to help students discover the MV platform by, for example, regularly engaging with colleges and universities to raise awareness. Or even going one step further, like Elkie, who has been working on enticing companies to provide MV apprenticeship schemes for the past two years. In the spirit of the mountain and the prophet, the onus is on companies to create the talent they need.
The skills gap is what you make it
Just because a company ideally wants someone fresh out of uni with an impressive MV skill-set, does not mean such a person exists. One can dream, but to stay within the realm of reality and possibility, companies will have to adjust their requirements. Especially in niche jobs, there needs to be a willingness to be flexible and hire from the existing talent pool, not the one you wish for. Working with the available talent might mean that the ‘fresh blood’ is not 20 anymore but instead in their 30’s and 40’s. According to Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen, the perfect age to start a career is, somewhat surprisingly, 40. While this has more to do with benefits to the individual, there is something to be said for ‘older’ employees. The Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging and the Stanford Center on Longevity found that older employees take fewer sick days, are more adept at resolving conflicts, have a strong work ethic and are loyal. Because, let’s not forget, staff retention; having had time to gain experience and figure out where their interests lie, seasoned employees are less likely to run off when the next ‘cool tech’ thing happens elsewhere.
Explore all avenues
Hiring for niche positions requires flexibility and an open mind. Companies need to be willing to provide employees with the skills needed for the job if education has failed to deliver. But instead of predominantly setting their sights on graduates, companies should also be casting a wider net and consider opening apprenticeships and training schemes to the mature demographic of the workforce who might already be 10-20 years into their careers. Hiring a mixed-age workforce not only makes it easier to fill positions but also results in a happier workforce, which could amount to 20% more productivity. Everyone’s a winner.
About the author: Iain Ramage, is VP Channel, Rocket Software.