Here’s How Microsoft and IBM Are Tackling the Digital Skills Gap—And Rethinking Tech Hiring as a Whole

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Last year in the U.S., 49,291 students graduated with a degree in computer science. That sounds like a lot, until you realize that there are almost 558,000 computing jobs open nationwide. And the digital skills gaps is only going to get worse—the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020, one million software engineering jobs will be unfilled.

Fortunately, many top companies are starting to recognize this, and are actively taking steps to close the gap. With demand for computer science grads far outpacing supply, companies like Microsoft and IBM are aiming to reduce their dependence on this credential by exploring skilled coding candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds.

From English majors who put themselves through coding bootcamps to self-taught tech talent with only a high school diploma under their belt, these companies are looking for people with specific skills and experience over past education, and potential over pedigree. In doing so, they provide a powerful roadmap for other organizations to transform their tech hiring practices.

Microsoft’s LEAP takes coding boot camp grads and turns them into the employees of tomorrow

When William Adams, technical advisor to the CTO, first joined Microsoft in 1999, he noticed that not a lot was being done to increase diversity among its ranks. The tech giant’s mission was to empower every person to achieve more—but its own hiring practices weren’t empowering diverse applicants to achieve a role at Microsoft.

In an effort to change that, Adams co-founded the LEAP apprenticeship program, which offers a similar experience to a fully paid internship to candidates who don’t qualify for one. These are candidates who aren’t currently in college, and no college degree is required to join the program. Past tech experience is preferred, but isn’t essential. Instead, the program looks for applicants with some project development experience and coding training (even if it’s self-taught), along with grit, integrity, and passion.

Adams was inspired to create the program after discovering how many talented coders were coming out of coding boot camps, where LEAP continues to source many of its applicants. Participants’ backgrounds range dramatically—from biotechnicians to former baristas and even farmers. Many are making radical shifts in their career or returning to the workforce after a long absence. But through an intensive 16-week course at Microsoft that incorporates both educational aspects and on-the-job training, they learn the fundamentals of computer science and engineering best practices—effectively preparing them for a job in the tech industry.

LEAP participants also work on a project with their sponsoring Microsoft product team, which can include arms such as Office 365, Azure, and Xbox. At the end of the program, many are offered full-time positions at the company’s Seattle campus. Those who aren’t or who turn down an offer still leave with a solid body of skills and an impressive credential to add to their resume.

For Microsoft, this program is a great way to find diverse candidates with the skills and potential to shape the future of tech—with or without a college degree. Unlike its high school and college internship program, LEAP delivers immediate ROI, effectively upskilling and onboarding future employees while getting them excited about the work Microsoft does.

IBM partners with universities and boot camps to bring more candidates with unconventional backgrounds into the company

IBM recognizes that newly-created tech jobs require skills that weren’t even dreamt of just a few years ago. That means many candidates with college degrees are in the same position as those without. Instead of focusing on degrees, IBM looks at factors like hands-on experience and relevant credentials on a candidate’s resume, proving they’ve taken the initiative to upskill and prepare themselves for a career in tech.

Currently, about 15% of IBM’s U.S. employees lack four-year degrees. In some locations, that number is closer to one in three. But the company is eager to build its pipeline with even more candidates from unconventional backgrounds, partnering with community colleges, universities, and boot camps to develop training programs that teach in-demand skills.

At the same time as IBM looks to hire job-ready tech talent, it’s working to keep its current team’s skill base up-to-date. Within the next four years, IBM plans to invest $1 billion in tech training and skills development for its current U.S. employees. From the very beginning, IBM’s founder, Thomas Watson Sr., viewed continuous learning as a vital tool for growing his company—allowing employees to more competitively serve their clients and develop the skills needed for the changing world of tech.

“New collar” jobs require a new approach to degree requirements

Microsoft and IBM aren’t the only tech companies moving away from degree requirements and toward skills training partnerships and apprenticeships; Github, Intel, and more are doing the same.

And this trend isn’t limited to tech—management consulting firm EY dropped degree requirements for its U.K. positions in 2015, and publishing company Penguin Random House has abandoned them for most roles in both its U.S. and U.K. divisions. Without embracing initiatives like these, companies across every industry will struggle to find tech talent as the digital skills gap grows wider.

At Trilogy, we partner with universities across North America to help companies find job-ready tech talent from a wide variety of backgrounds, as well as keep current employees’ skills up to date. To learn more about hiring our graduates or training your team, get in touch.

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