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Better thinking comes from diversity of thought, said Channel Futures’ T.C. Doyle, but how do we bring diverse people and thinkers into technology? It starts with undoing some of the traditional hiring practices in IT, according to panel members at the Combined Workforce Communities Meeting. Some legacy companies no longer require a four-year degree for tech jobs and others are relaxing educational requirements overall. “They need people and it’s allowing them to diversify their workforce,” said Carolyn April, senior director of industry analysis at CompTIA.
Adults also need to adjust their thinking on what success means for their kids. It used to be that a four-year degree was necessary to get a job in the workforce, but as times change those expectations need to keep up.
“It’s a shift and a mindset change,” said Aaron Woods, principal consultant at CEX Services LLC. “Let’s look at this as a stepping stone. You can start with certifications. I talk about CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+ as the baseline and then move from there.”
A huge oil company was trying to figure out why their underwater valves intermittently failed deep down in the gulf and spent $1 billion on IoT devices, sensors and new pumps to figure it out, said Doyle. It wasn’t until an oilman talked to a marine biologist that they understood the problem wasn’t with the machinery but bivalve sea creatures messing with the equipment.
“The marine biologist says, ‘You don’t have an oil valve problem, you have a clam problem,’” Doyle said. The oil company never would have come up with that solution without a totally different perspective on the problem. “It was diversity of thought that led to a better business outcome. Challenging one another creates a better outcome.”
Diversity in technology is important especially now because tech occupation employment is predicted to grow to 8.6 million, said Doyle. “All signs point to heavy growth,” Doyle said. At the same time tech jobs are exploding, low-income students are 12 times less likely to have access to computer science in school, and black, Latinx and low-income families are less likely to have access to broadband wireless and personal computers.
To tackle those issues, April, Woods and Sue Krautbauer, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Techadox, spent an hour discussing ways parents, educators and businesses can bring more diversity to the tech workforce.
It starts with educating hiring managers. “We have to focus on this hiring managers and get them to truly understand what’s going on in today’s time,” said Woods. “What you did 10 years ago is not relevant to today.”
For small businesses that don’t have a hiring manager or HR department, it’s about focusing on the owner or president, whoever does the hiring, and getting them to understand that the traditional four-year degree isn’t necessarily a requirement for a good employee, April said.
“All people have intrinsic value in your organization, so you have to think of how you tap into their skills and desires to impact your company culture,” Krautbauer said.
The panel was followed by working group sessions to identify tools we have today, tools we need and some best practices for hiring diversity. Here are some takeaways from the Combined Workforce Community Meeting, presented by CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology, Future Leaders and Advancing Diversity in Technology communities.
Hiring managers and potential bosses need to look at the skill set the applicant is bringing to the table and not as much about the traditional educational paths. “Look at the skill set that’s needed, the requirements for the job and try not to worry so much about the four-year degree,” Woods said. “Look at the skill set.”
Krautbauer recommended using blind attribute software to help connect people with jobs outside of the traditional checkbox of a college degree. “Instead of job descriptions, they set up profiles and then skill sets, and the algorithm matches people with jobs. It’s really a blind application until those matches are made,” she said. “It’s really helping get over those preconceived notions that are pervasive in HR.”
“Increasingly, tech jobs are not what we think of, where people are cordoned off, running the help desk,” April said. If you have people in your own company who came to tech through nontraditional paths, highlight them and let people know that they have internal role models who can help them on their paths.
Creativity, persuasion, adaptability and time management are the most in-demand job skills, and as companies continue transitioning to virtual offices, people need great social skills to be able to keep up. “With the teams I manage, it’s very important for everyone on the team have social skills,” Woods said. “That’s going to be an important piece for everyone to hone.”
April recently did a study for CompTIA that showed girls initially do express a great interest in technology but opt out because they think they don't fit in. “If we can change that perception we are going to see a lot more girls stick with it,” she said. “Every company is in the technology industry now. We need to educate our kids that working in tech is not about working at Microsoft or IBM. You can work in tech in healthcare or fashion, and it excites kids more.”
Old fashioned career days don’t work for kids, said Cristina Martin Greysman, a partner strategist for Amazon Web Services in the working groups after the panel. The industry could instead develop career days for parents and teachers to show them the opportunities available in technology through nontraditional means. “There’s inherent passion and exposing them to something that’s going to bring it out,” said Greysman. “It’s about exposing them and seeing what they are good at.”
“For years, we’ve lauded the idea that you have to have a four-year degree, and said ‘STEM, STEM, STEM,’” said Krautbauer. She recommended tech to her daughters when they were teenagers, but they weren’t interested. Now they work in healthcare IT and are taking no prisoners, she said. “Parents need to start thinking about the way we view that path toward success.”
Outsiders coming into tech can often approach the industry with what they’ve heard, and not what they’ve experienced, including unrealistic attitudes about free form schedules and skyrocketing salaries. “We need to ensure kids understand specifically what it is that they need to do and not to be looking at the pie in the sky ideas,” Woods said. “We need to start with the educational piece to let them know what they need to do.”
Doyle agreed. “Show them what your company culture is. ‘This is how we work, and this is how you’re rewarded.’”
More women than men have been assigned mentors, but it’s still men who get the promotions, said Krautbauer. The industry needs to pivot to sponsorships over mentorships, where women can take others under their wings professionally and help them continue their careers. “We need to start talking less about mentorship and more about sponsorships,” Krautbauer said. “Look around in your community and your business. Look for a rising star who you can help bring along.”
Is your business dedicated to supporting tech workforce diversity? Download the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Plan for SMBs, and learn how to leverage diversity for your business.
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