It’s an interesting time to hire technology workers. Soon, recruiters will encounter two very different types of applicants for the tech-related jobs they’re tasked to fill.
It might seem obvious that Generation Z applicants — or “digital natives” — are the best fit for tech positions. Gen. Z-ers have been exposed to technology their entire lives, with many gaining experience with high-demand skills such as coding before they even entered high school. These young people spent their formative years with technology, which is motivating many of them to consider careers in the field right out of school.
But does this automatically make Gen. Z-ers the best applicants for tech jobs?
At LaunchCode, we provide free training to workers looking to reskill and switch to tech careers. Many of the “digital newcomers” we train are older, and we’ve seen that they, too, can provide immense value to tech teams. As more common workplace tasks are automated in the future, programmers will be as valuable as ever — and the tech talent gap will continue to grow. Recruiters, then, shouldn’t make the mistake of only considering digital natives to fill tech positions.
The Recruiter’s Challenge
Though both Gen. Z-ers and older workers are looking to get into tech, recruiters should approach these groups of workers differently. Gen. Z-ers will likely offer up resumes with recently obtained four-year degrees in computer science. On the other hand, applicants from previous generations will possess years of work experience, but their credentials might not fit into the stereotypical box of what hiring managers are trained to look for.
However, older workers often seek out the opportunity to learn new skills. They have the motivation to succeed in unfamiliar arenas, they understand what the future of work looks like, and they know that having tech skills opens the doors to a number of upwardly mobile, high-paying, and secure jobs. Many of the people we’ve trained have valuable professional experience, but because they don’t have computer science degrees or past programming stints, they have trouble landing their dream jobs in technology. This isn’t just a loss for the job seeker — it’s a missed opportunity for companies.
The tech talent gap is already an obstacle to digital transformation at more than half of companies, and the gap is only likely to widen. Organizations that want to stay current will have to tap into all available sources of talent to find the skills they need, and that includes considering more nontraditional candidates.
Look Beyond the Resume
Recruiters often ignore life experience that isn’t included on a resume, but this information could benefit companies seeking stable tech employees. Older workers with wide ranges of professional experience are typically less risky hires, and they can quickly acclimate to new work environments and roles. This is especially useful in the tech industry, which has a notoriously high turnover rate.
When making new hires, take into account not only the skills a candidate has, but also the work ethic and hunger for learning the applicant demonstrates. Imagine and inquire about how an older applicant’s work history might be an asset, even if it doesn’t include traditional credentials.
Make Room for Emerging Talent and Motivated Learners
When it comes to hiring entry-level candidates early in their careers, hiring managers and recruiters should remember that Gen. Z-ers favor roles that offer upskilling and professional development opportunities. Because technology is rapidly changing what common job tasks look like, it is important for companies to establish frameworks that emphasize and support continuous learning for employees.
Older, more experienced employees who have retrained for tech are often competing for the same jobs as recent graduates. The good news, however, is that these groups aren’t actually competing against each other on a broader scale: There are many more available jobs than qualified applicants to fill them.
Many companies are already recruiting both fresh graduates and more experienced hires to fill tech talent gaps. However, many tech roles require newer skill sets, putting older workers with robust professional experience but without the most updated tech know-how at a disadvantage. Companies should consider the strengths of both candidates: It’s better to look for a learner’s mindset and an overarching goal to succeed than to focus solely on certain resume credentials.
Navigating a Multigenerational Labor Market
When recruiters consider all possible sources of tech talent, we’ll see a faster-growing, more diverse tech industry. Though there are many marked differences between digital natives and digital newcomers, both groups are attracted to companies with clear visions and welcoming attitudes toward individuals of all backgrounds.
Here’s how recruiters can attract both younger and older workers to fill their tech roles:
1. Prioritize Values and Culture
When recruiting talent of any age or experience level, the values, mission, and culture of a company are key. Companies with histories of long-term success tend to follow very clearly defined sets of values in their hiring, developing, and managing processes. Be sure to set those parameters for your own company if they are not already in place.
2. Stress Flexibility
Younger workers rank flexibility as an important part of their careers. Moreover, permitting flexibility can have a positive impact on both a company’s bottom line and its reputation among potential applicants. Recruiters whose companies don’t already offer perks like flexible workspaces or hours might want to start internal discussion about the kinds of flexibility-based perks the company could offer.
3. Support Learning at All Levels
Retraining is important to all generations, but for different reasons. Younger entry-level candidates are coming out of educational pathways ready to jump directly into tech roles, but they crave new learning opportunities. On the other hand, older generations have the professional experience to add value to a company, but they often need the tools and training to learn new skills.
Contrary to popular belief, research shows employees and managers are energized by opportunities to learn useful skills and master new technologies. Whether they launch mentorship programs or reimburse employees who take online classes, companies should explore ways to help all employees learn new things
To close widening tech talent gaps, tech industry leaders and recruiters must discover value where they may not have traditional sought it out. Doing so builds the kind of more diverse, more dynamic workforces organizations will need to continue succeeding as the business landscape evolves.
Today, recruiters are faced with two very different types of workers in the tech hiring process. It’s important to be sensitive to the differences between these populations — and to embrace those differences wholeheartedly.
Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode has been recognized for expanding “the tech workforce by providing free coding education to disadvantaged job seekers.” Jeff lives in St. Louis with his wife and twin girls.