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How can your company support early-career tech talent? 3 tactics for a more diverse pipeline

For one: Employers need to talk more to tech skills development programs to ensure what's being taught is what's sought.

Technical.ly's May 2023 Tech Industry Partnership meeting at Perpay. (Photo by Aileen Connolly McNulty)

This article appears as part of the Most Diverse Tech Hub initiative and is underwritten by the City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce. It was independently reported and not reviewed by this partner before publication.

Do you remember your first tech job? How did you get that job? How did that position create a foundation for the rest of your career? Have you thought about giving back to the next generation of tech talent?

All questions to consider when thinking about how to best manage and hire early-career talent in today’s tech industry.

As part of Technical.ly’s Tech Industry Partnership, which is supported by the City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce’s Most Diverse Tech Hub initiative, Philly tech leaders gathered at Perpay’s Center City office on Tuesday to discuss ways that they can work together to create a more equitable pipeline for young talent.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from that discussion, which took place before Technical.ly’s NET/WORK hiring event during Philly Tech Week 2023 presented by Comcast.

[Editor’s note: To encourage a more transparent conversation, Technical.ly granted attendees anonymity.]

The earlier the exposure, the better

In noting their software development company’s experience teaching K-12 students computer programming, one VP said a focus on younger learners would better prime the STEM talent pipeline by showing future pros just what a tech career could look like.

“In order to get them at a younger age, [we need to] really get them at a grassroots community level,” they said. “I would love to see if the City could partner with some school districts, and especially after-school programs.”

One attendee who works for a tech education nonprofit agreed that early exposure is important, giving an example of a student at their organization who excelled in their program because of previous coding experience.

“I think we need to do a better job of creating those opportunities and normalizing what it means to get into tech,” they said. “It shouldn’t be something that’s far fetched for people.”

A talent acquisition specialist echoed that offering opportunity and and exposure as early as high school or earlier is key.

“At the end of the day, anybody can go to college, but not everybody has the means to go,” they said. Bootcamps can offer extra exposure and growth to non-college grads, and that type of program, coupled with K-12 partnerships “opening the door to that young talent, I think, is key to the early-stage talent getting more fostered into this community.”

Is your company prepared to support early career talent?

Good intention isn’t enough to support tech newcomers at your company. You need a mentorship and a hands-on upskilling plan, said the director of operations for a data analytics group that prioritizes hiring early-career employees.

“Which can be very difficult for a small company — and so we’re trying to work that out internally to see how we can better support this new talent in the tech scene,” they said. “It’s a challenge, and it’s a worthy challenge.”

One speaker identified themselves as someone who started at their company as an intern and moved up to a full-time role. Based on that experience, they said it’s important for companies to think about internal career growth, “starting on entry-level roles and really investing in people from the ground up,” they said.

Hiring early-stage talent ensuring they will get the support they need to grow in a given company is an “investment” for both the employee and the employer, said one speaker representing a telecommunications company:

“They need that talent right now,” they said of their employer. “So I think it’s more about an investment in the future so that we’re not having the same conversation in the same room three years from now, talking about early talent.”

One strategy that worked for a local fintech company was allowing early-career employees to rotate through multiple positions in their first two years to get a better sense of what actually are interested in pursuing. This company also launched a mentorship program, with leaders from the company reporting that these two methods have helped to increase retention of these employees.

Cross-industry communication can help prepare talent

Several attendees representing coding bootcamps or other tech education orgs noted that they’re in regular communication with tech employers. That’s mutually beneficial for a few reasons.

It reminds employers that there’s talent coming from such nontraditional career pathways. That helps skills programs better place grads in jobs, and those employers get a more diverse slate of candidates. And discussing what specific skills are being taught — or should be taught — ensures those programs are as useful as possible.

“What we do is just really ask companies, ‘Hey, what are the exact skill sets you need, both hard technical skills and soft skills?'” one pro said. “Help us build our curriculum.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Perpay
Series: PHL: Most Diverse Tech Hub
Projects: Philly Tech Week

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