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Pursuing Nontraditional IT Candidates: Methods to Expand Talent Pipelines

Employers winning in this labor market know how to look at adjacent skills and invest in upskilling their internal candidates while creating alternative candidate pools.

Nathan Eddy

March 28, 2023

5 Min Read
Talent Development on the Mechanism of Gears.
Illia Uriadnikov via Alamy Stock

Despite recent high-profile layoffs from major corporations, businesses still struggle in many cases to fill critical roles across their IT departments.

To close this gap between available talent and organization needs, businesses can consider changing the criteria they use to assess candidates.

Organizations should consider numerous tactics to meet these goals, including a re-think of previously required experiences in education, as well as direct outreach -- internally or externally -- to candidates from nontraditional backgrounds.

To fill critical roles in 2023, Jamie Kohn, director in the Gartner HR practice, says it's more urgent than ever to rethink outdated assumptions about qualifications. 

“For years, organizations have talked about the strategic value of expanding and diversifying their talent pipelines,” Kohn says. “The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation for many organizations, leading to a surge in demand for IT talent.”

As a result, organizations can no longer meet their talent needs through traditional candidate pools -- candidates are also learning skills in a variety of ways today.

“They are taking online courses or even teaching themselves new skills,” she notes. “Work experience and educational background are no longer great indicators of a candidates’ technical skills.”

To support talent pool diversity, organizations are beginning to intentionally include neurodiverse candidates in their recruitment efforts.

The neurodiverse workforce remains an untapped, though growing, talent pool: Organizations can benefit from the positive attributes commonly associated with neurodivergence such as creativity, lateral thinking, and a different perspective.

Additionally, neurodiverse individuals have highly specialized skills, and consistency in tasks once mastered, all valuable characteristics that can increase organizational innovation. 

“We intentionally bring in new employees from a variety of backgrounds and abilities, neurodiverse individuals, those with military experience, those who are self-taught, as well as those who have followed traditional paths,” explains Jonathan Watson, CTO at Clio.

He says bringing in folks from diverse backgrounds and abilities extends the benefit of diverse perspectives across Clio's teams and to the company's customers.

“We unlock new opportunities and build better solutions for our customers if we have direct lines of empathy towards all kinds of different needs, pain points, and desired outcomes,” Watson says.

Changing Strategies for Changing Times

Kohn notes the changing role of the IT talent from support providers to enablers of transformation has led to shifts in the tech workers’ roles.

“As a result, skills requirements are evolving at a much faster pace than earlier,” she says. “In fact, the more specialized a certain skill is, the faster it is likely to become obsolete.”

Most companies have resorted to increasing their starting salaries and total rewards packages while investing more in direct sourcing techniques. However, this approach is expensive, unsustainable, and continues to accelerate competition.

“Instead, companies must consider recruiting strategies that broaden the talent pool and innovate on how they can differentiate themselves from their competitors to attract the best tech talent available in the market,” Kohn says.

While traditional recruiting mechanisms tend to focus on sourcing candidates with technology degrees from four-year institutions, she explains nearly 40% of IT jobs can be done without a four-year degree.

“The notion that a four-year computer science degree is a prerequisite for success in IT is a flawed assumption and dramatically limits a company’s pool of high-potential applicants,” Kohn says. “Best-in-class organizations expand their talent pools by investing in upskilling interested students on key technical skills needed now and in the future.”

This can be done by partnering with the government or universities for apprenticeship programs or by partnering with academies providing accelerated training programs on critical technical skills.

Inclusive, Skill-Based Strategies

Felicia Lyon, principal, human capital advisory for KPMG, says developing a strategy for nontraditional hires should start with leadership setting forth a vision for talent that is inclusive and skill-based.

“Execution of that strategy will require involvement from stakeholders that span the entire organization,” she explains. “Business stakeholders should work closely with HR to identify roles that will be a good fit.”

She adds that while there is a tendency to start small via pilot programs, research has shown that cohort programs are more efficient.

“Companies should also look to external partners like apprenticeship programs and community colleges who can help them build a capability around successfully supporting and developing non-traditional talent,” Lyon says.

Watson explains Clio uses many overlapping programs to widen the net of candidates in technical roles.

“Our talent acquisition team helps identify opportunities to recruit non-traditional areas of available talent,” he says. “We also partner with education programs who are creating opportunities for students with non-traditional backgrounds.”

A recent example is the company's partnership with Toronto Metropolitan University’s Cybersecure Catalyst Program.

“We also have an internal career development program where employees are encouraged to network with teams outside their responsibilities and form new pathways that may not be hierarchical career progression paths,” Watson says. “This forms new perspectives from across different areas of the company.”

Stakeholders Include HR, Recruiting, DEI

Functions within HR, such as recruiting, DEI, and learning & development are all critical to attracting and retaining nontraditional talent segments.

Kohn adds it’s also important to note that tech talent is sought by employers across all industries and geographies.

“Employers have similar messages, which make it difficult for an employer to distinguish its brand in the talent market,” she says. “To stand out, companies should get hiring managers involved in attracting and sourcing talent.”

When a hiring manager is the first person to reach out to a candidate, they are more likely to respond and to ultimately accept a job.

“Candidates trust hiring managers more than recruiters to help them understand the role and organization,” Kohn notes.

Lyon says the critical path to tech talent success is the partnership between the CIO and CHRO, and both leaders need to engage in looking at skill adjacencies, upskilling programs and long-term pipeline opportunities. 

“The local community is another critical stakeholder - looking at development programs, sponsorships, apprenticeships with local secondary schools, technical schools, and state and local led return to work programs,” she says. “How can the CIO and CHRO put a ‘brand’ to the next generation of talent and make real investment in development programs that funnel into the tech roles of the future?”

What to Read Next:

10 Hardest IT Jobs to Fill

Skills-Based Talent Practices: Rethinking Workforce Aptitude

Closing the Cybersecurity Talent Gap

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

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