Does tech talent need a traditional degree?

15 September 2021

Today is National Online Learning Day, and in honour of this, we’re exploring the changing role of tech education.

Tech has always been quite an exclusive industry. The skills were always seen as highly complex and therefore needed training from top institutions. For a long time, there has been a snobbery around tech roles, with many feeling that they needed top graduates to fill them, and no other talent would do. Graduates from MIT or Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge, were favoured by tech employers and seen as the best of the best. A degree was essential if you wanted to break into the industry, contributing to a lack of diversity in tech as university is famously not the most accessible way to begin a career.

However, now we have an issue.

There is currently more demand for tech skills than ever before and a limited number of graduates. We’re in the middle of a vast tech skills shortage, which is causing many issues for employers in all industries. Not only are more companies digitising and need skilled tech professionals to move into this new era, but many roles now require basic technology competency as we’ve ramped up the use of tech and automations. With so much demand for these skills, can we continue to look in the same places for tech candidates?

Tech recruitment is so competitive right now that for scaling businesses, competing with the likes of Google, Amazon and more for the most highly qualified tech talent feels like a losing battle. Top universities can produce only so many tech graduates, and leading players will snap up these candidates incredibly quickly once they receive their degrees. Graduates almost hold power because they know the skills they possess, and the degree they have are in extremely high demand. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic speeding up digitisation and driving rapid growth for tech startups and digital-first businesses. As a result, traditionally qualified candidates are becoming harder to come by.

Then there’s the issue that we need more digital skills for traditionally non-tech orientated roles like admin, customer service, and even graphic designers. Tech is becoming more ingrained into our daily lives. A Brookings Institute study found that nearly two-thirds of all new jobs created this decade require at least medium-level digital skills. With demand so high, graduates from tech courses cannot be expected to fill roles with less complex digital skills, meaning there needs to be another solution to widen the tech talent pool and create more opportunities for those outside of these infamous institutions.

However, times are changing, and the fact we’re all embracing tech more could work in favour of scaling tech businesses looking to recruit talent. As we all use technology daily, we are becoming quite savvy, and younger generations especially are more acquainted with technology than ever before. They’re naturals! There are also more ways than ever to develop skills, especially tech skillsets, which are no longer seen as an elitist or inaccessible skill, with online learning platforms and non-traditional education taking over.

Therefore, we’re asking whether talent really needs a traditional Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree to succeed in the tech industry? Or is there another way to give talented people opportunities without the expensive and inaccessible background?

Well, the truth is that with the race for tech talent so tight, scaling businesses need to look for talent elsewhere, or they’ll simply never hire. If they wish to grow their business, changing attitudes around tech skills and opening up a more diverse talent pool when it comes to experience could be the key to recruitment success.

Here are just some of the great ways that tech candidates can develop the necessary skills to succeed in 2021:

Coding boot camps

Twenty years ago, the idea of an online coding boot camp would strike fear into any developer’s heart, but the truth is they’re now a great way to extend your knowledge and gain skills. According to a study by Course Report, education boot camps have grown over the last decade into a $309 million industry producing more than 23,000 graduates. It has completely upended the traditional university experience, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated their growth. As many workers were furloughed or laid off worldwide, many saw an opportunity to train in something new. However, in a global pandemic, you can’t enrol in a new class or college very easily. As a result, online training and certificate programs saw a massive increase in traffic and inquiries. Research by The Course Report claims that 80% of graduates were employed in a job requiring the skills learned at their Bootcamp with an average salary increase of 51%. Tech employers are finding these so valuable that Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, among other big names, use them as a way of pipelining future talent and ensuring they have the specific skills they need.

Online degree programmes

Online degree providers are nothing new, but again, as a result of the pandemic, they’re proving to be more popular than ever. They allow students to work full time as they qualify and are truly accessible for all regardless of location, disability or even language is spoken. When it comes to training in tech skills, these online learning institutions are proving to be incredibly popular solutions. LinkedIn Talent Insights revealed that in September 2021, The Open University provided the highest number of professionals with the skills “Software Development”, “Cybersecurity”, “Cloud computing” and was second highest for “User Experience (UX)”. This shows that online learning platforms are growing more popular than ever amongst talent. And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Of course, people who are tech-savvy and spending a lot of time online favour these ways of gaining qualifications, but they also appeal to people who cannot justify the costs of traditional university education, say they need to work to take care of a family or cannot afford to stop working full time. It makes tech degrees accessible to many more people and therefore widens the talent pool. As our knowledge of technology grows, the quality of these courses is constantly, and therefore it shouldn’t be looked down upon compared to a traditional degree.

Learning on the job

With apprenticeships and on the job learning more popular than ever, tech talent can now learn while they work rather than studying for years. This way, they’ll get real-life industry experience and learn first-hand while being thrown in the deep end. Whether it’s digital marketing, cyber security, artificial intelligence, software development or even game design, there are now more tech apprenticeships available than ever before. Some of the biggest names in tech, finance, media and engineering now offer tech apprenticeships to help them pipeline talent and train up people on the job, creating more opportunities and a larger talent pool for themselves. Contrary to popular belief, apprenticeships aren’t just for young people; there’s no upper age limit. The only requirement is that they’re new to the job or responsibilities.

Similarly, though, tech scaleups can use online learning methods to train and upskill their current workforce. With so many online learning platforms available, you can provide your existing dedicated talent with more opportunities to progress in their career while also ensuring your business benefits from the tech skills it needs. This will improve employee engagement and loyalty and improve your employer brand reputation, plus it brings the necessary tech skills into your business. It’s definitely win, win.

Re-skilled candidates

Just as you can upskill your teams, employers at scaling tech businesses must realise that the last 12 months have encouraged many people to re-skill. These individuals could have a degree in another subject or have formed a career in a completely irrelevant industry, but they’ve seen an opportunity and know where the future of work is. Tech. These candidates will have also engaged in online learning. While their primary credentials may not add up to what you’re looking for when recruiting for your scaling tech business, the courses, webinars and activities they’ve been working on on the sidelines say much more. This proves they’re dedicated to changing careers and willing to learn. Plus, with the quality of online learning, the number of informative webinars and chances to download software and tech themselves technical skills, who’s to say that these candidates are any less able than those with a degree in UX, AI or Digital Marketing?

The other advantage that re-skilled candidates have is knowledge of the working world. They’ll have transferrable skills that many graduates probably won’t but will help your business grow and succeed. They’ll know how a company runs. For example, they’ll be used to dealing with clients and customers and have real-life experiences that can inform their working practice.

At Talent Works, we help scaling tech businesses access wider talent pools through direct sourcing, digital attraction campaigns and talent mapping to inform decisions. We know that the talent market is incredibly competitive right now, which is why our recruitment experts are ready to help you navigate it. As an RPO provider, we work as a strategic recruitment partner, offering advice and helping employers look outside of the box for tech talent.

If you’d like to learn more about our flexible approach to RPO, you can view our services or start a conversation with our recruitment experts by contacting us.

If you’d like to learn more about the state of tech hiring in the UK or the US, click the relevant link to download our tailored reports.

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