There is no question that the increasingly tech-driven U.S. economy suffers a serious shortage of tech talent that threatens American competitiveness in the digital age.
A survey of CNBC’s Technology Executive Council last fall found that 57% of the chief information, technology or operations officers said their top worry was finding enough tech-skilled employees, far surpassing concern over supply chain holdups (26%) or cybersecurity attacks (20%) in what kept them awake at night.
The tech-talent shortfall is expected to only worsen as the tech sector grows. Some 197,000 IT jobs were added last year than in 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a demand for 667,000 more tech jobs by 2030. The Great Resignation hitting the entire labor market is making it even harder for the tech sector to keep up with talent needs.
Research from my organization’s Command Shift Coalition along with Emsi Burning Glass, however, reveals a chronically overlooked existing talent pipeline of 250,000 women of color across U.S. metropolitan areas—talent who in their current non-tech jobs are “tech-eligible” for pure tech jobs. Also, close to 500 non-tech jobs in 10 markets that demand tech skills could feasibly be mapped over and transitioned into pure tech jobs. That is, the new talent pipeline of 250,000 women of color possesses foundational, transferable tech skills in their current jobs, such as customer service representatives using CRM software and digital productivity tools or electronic records specialists at doctor’s offices.
Many non-tech wage workers may be even readier for today’s tech jobs because retail, customer service, administrative and other public-engaging work often demands significant people skills and emotional intelligence for problem-solving, task-juggling, project management and prioritization—bringing a level of resourcefulness that’s hard to teach.
That human touch is often the “missing middle” between businesses and their IT operations. “As companies rapidly adopt artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies … [m]ost emerging roles will be fulfilled by people and machines working together,” an Accenture-Aspen Institute Business and Society Program report says.
With a measure of last-mile upskilling training to meet the tech job requirements and set them up for success, this hidden tech talent could be ready for better paying, more secure and upwardly mobile tech jobs—and escape the trap of low-wage “sandpit” jobs, as a Brookings Institution study called them.
Tapping this rich vein of tech talent isn’t as easy as rebooting a computer, however. It requires new thinking and strategies to meet workforce needs. How can businesses help? What are the investment opportunities? To name a few, businesses can:
• Challenge the entrenched biases and institutional barriers that have blocked many women of color and other underrepresented people from accessing career jobs, such as tech, and businesses from finding and hiring them. For instance, businesses can undertake targeted outreach and advertising to underrepresented people to welcome them to the tech sector as many feel shut out because so few get to work there.
• Revamp traditional HR practices that default to recruiting from within industry sectors or on college campuses, emphasizing pedigree over competency or search based on position descriptions and job titles rather than the skills those positions need.
• Help hidden tech-eligible workers recognize their foundational tech skills that could be bolstered and transferred into tech jobs, create résumés that highlight their tech skills for HR managers and recruiters to find and mine and be aware of tech sector opportunities.
• Most importantly, as they seek out tech-eligible talent, businesses can invest in upskilling training, onboarding and job support to bridge gaps in tech expertise and professional experience. But companies don’t necessarily need to build that training themselves in-house. Rather, they can take advantage of the robust movement of organizations, including private-nonprofit partnerships, that offer upskill training for underrepresented sources of tech talent.
NPower’s coalition with leading corporations and nonprofit organizations, for example, has committed to help double the number of women of color in tech from less than 5% today to 10% in 10 years. The return on investment goes beyond building a tech talent pool and pipeline. Companies can better achieve their ESG and diversity, equity and inclusion commitments and do their part to help the tech sector look more like America.
Overall, investing in hidden tech talent can help strengthen America’s workforce—and our economy and competitive edge—by giving everyone a fair chance to reach their full potential and aspirations.