By Juergen Mueller, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Board Member at SAP SE
Finding qualified employees remains the biggest risk for technology companies, according to the latest CNBC Technology Executive Council Survey. Cloud computing, machine learning, and cyber security are on top of the current most-wanted tech skills list. Equally high in demand is expertise in the areas of data sciences and analytics. Building a strong talent pipeline is important for all businesses, not just technology companies.
IT expertise is needed in all types of organizations across industries to drive business transformation. The demand for tech talent will increase even further as companies turn into intelligent enterprises to adapt faster to changes and become more resilient.
When talking about ‘talent’, let’s be very clear that we speak about people. Innovation is driven by humans. People are at the heart of every change in the enterprise and society. People’s ideas, know-how, and passion fuel business transformation, create socio-economic impact and are needed tobuild a more sustainable world.
One way to bridge the talent gap is to offer more training and development to existing employees. But we also need a long-term solution to create a continuous strong tech talent pipeline for the future. I recommend two strategies: to engage young people about technology early on and to attract more people from different backgrounds to technology.
Here is why: educating young people in technology and engineering is the key to success and socio-economic progress. We have to inspire the next generation and make them curious about the way technology changes our world and help them embrace technology as a career path.
Start Talking to Gen Z Now
Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 and 2015, is expected to be the most educated and the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet according to the Pew Research Center. While Gen Zers are digital natives and heavy consumers of technology, developing technology products and services is not automatically their first career choice. We need to win their hearts and minds by showing that technology is a place for creativity and fun.
Most recruitment programs focus on students, especially the ones who have already expressed an interest in a sciences, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) profession. We need to cast a wider net and start our engagement with high schools and middle schools before students apply to college.
Consider this: in many countries, students (and their parents) decide at the end of elementary school or middle school the type of high school they should go, often setting the course towards a more STEM-focused or liberal arts and humanities centered path.
Internships, coding clubs, and science fairs are good initiatives to spark students’ interest for a career in tech. One of my favorite youth initiatives is FIRST LEGO League. This global learning program and competition introduces technology and engineering to children ages 4-16. Students work with mentors from corporations to grow their coding and design skills and compete in the robotics competition.
A playful introduction to computer sciences is Kara. The learning tool teaches students to program simple tasks for a ladybug named Kara, such as collecting leaves and getting through the forest safely. I used Kara to teach my sister the foundations of programming. What I like about these programs is that they show us the inner workings of the technology, like looking behind the interface of a mechanical clock to understand what makes it tick.
Consumer electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have become highly polished and ready to use with minimal setup or effort compared to the predecessors many of us grew up with. The sleek interfaces of today’s devices do not reveal their inner mechanics to us. You do not see a single line of command anymore.
At the same time, these technologies influence so much of our daily life. As such, it has become even more important that we offer and support computer sciences programs like Kara to teach the next generations the inner workings of the technology that they are using every day and inspire them to come up with their own ways of applying technology to change our world. That’s why we started the SAP Young Thinkers program, to encourage students to build digital skills and foster critical and solution-oriented thinking in a fun way.
Finally, we need to show Gen Z practical examples of how technology protects our world. A recent example is the German Corona Warn App. Downloaded by over 27 million citizens, this mobile app helps trace and reduce the spread Covid-19infections.
Diversify the Talent Pipeline
My second recommendation is to diversify the talent pipeline and nurture talent in underrepresented groups. Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are a minority in all STEM professions. While women have made gains in STEM professions in the last 25 years, especially in healthcare, they are still underrepresented in computer and engineering jobs, according to Pew Research.
Girls Who Code is an example of an organization that helps to close the gender gap. It teaches girls between the 3rd and 12th grade programming and self-confidence. According to the founder Reshma Saujani removing psychological hurdles is as important as providing coding skills.
In the early days of Girls Who Code, she noticed that girls tend not to hand in their coding assignments if they don’t think it is perfect. This perfectionism prevents girls to take advantage of growth opportunities. The same behavior can also hinder their career later.
The books The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman and Lean In by Sheryl Sandbergquote findings from an 2014 HP internal study that showed women only apply for a job when their qualifications match 100% with the job description.
Male candidates apply for jobs that match their interest, regardless of whether their skills are a perfect match or not. Subsequent research by Tara Sophia Mohr concluded that women take job qualifications more seriously than men. They see job descriptions as real requirements that need to be fulfilled and they follow the hiring process more by-the-book. That is why the Girls Who Code classes not only teach girls coding, but also how to be brave and go for opportunities.
Saujani’s story is a reminder that decisions are often made based on what feels right for us. In her recent Harvard Business Review article on inclusive leadership Salwa Rahim-Dillard argues that “regardless of demographic background, we all share a basic need to belong, to be accepted, and to avoid rejection.”
I believe that a workplace committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in which everybody takes part in engaging with talent from all types of backgrounds early on gives this sense of belonging. It will attract a steady stream of talent by winning people’s minds and hearts.