Why career changers are just as important as the next generation by Sarah Foxley

We start 2018 with an article by Sarah Foxley, an ex-heritage professional who is now in her 2nd year with The Open University studying Computing and IT. She provides some real insights as to how we can make a difference by investing in adult education for career changers as well as the younger generation.

Why career changers are just as important as the next generation

This autumn the UK Government announced a raft of measures to support the tech industry. One welcome piece of news was a £20 million fund for training 14-18-year olds to be the next generation of Cyber Security experts. Investment in the next generation is crucial but we need to be careful about focusing all our energy there.

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Take for example a 14-year-old enrolled on this new scheme. Potentially it could be up to 7 years before they graduate from an IT degree and enter their first job. Also, not everyone who enrols in such a scheme will follow through to an eventual IT career, especially where minority groups are concerned. The 2016 BCS Women in IT Scorecard suggests that of those girls who study computing pre-GCSE only 12% of them will go on to gain relevant degrees and work in the sector. By focusing solely on the next generation, we risk putting all our eggs into one basket when it comes to the future of tech but what do we do?

Investing in adults

There is an obvious answer - invest in adults too. Tech is leading to great changes in the workplace with more and more roles becoming automated. As a result, more people are looking to change careers. There are many benefits to encouraging career changers into tech, for businesses and those career changers themselves.

  • Soft skills – communication, negotiating and team working (to name but a few) are skills that are truly honed in the workplace and can’t always be measured through traditional qualifications. Older people changing career are likely to have these skills which could benefit your business.
  • Previous/life experience – if you are developing new systems, software or tech it can be invaluable to have employees with first hand experience of the problem you are trying to solve. Look at people’s previous experience as they may be able to bring new insight to your work.
  • Determination & hard work – changing careers requires a huge amount of work and effort. It is not an easy thing to do and as a result these individuals are likely to be hard workers, determined to make it. This could be a real asset to your workforce.
  • Untapped talent – Just because someone didn’t study IT in their late teens/early 20s doesn’t mean they don’t have an aptitude for it. Could you be missing out on the next big thing by ignoring the opportunity to hire them?

 

Tackling diversity

As if this wasn’t enough, encouraging and employing older career changers could also be a way of tackling diversity issues here and now rather than years in the future. Diversity in tech is a substantial problem with a huge disparity between the makeup of the workforce compared to the population. A recent diversity report BCS found only 17% of IT professionals were women, 8% were disabled, and 21% were over 50. Compare that with the current population where 51% are women, 23% are disabled and 45% are aged over 50. By encouraging career changers from these groups to work in tech we could see a more rapid change in the makeup of our sector.

What businesses can do

As a business if you’re convinced by the argument you are probably wondering what you can do.

  • Look at how you are hiring - I have seen adverts for schemes with age restrictions. It’s a bit of a barrier and potentially could be breaking the Equality Act. Make your adverts friendlier to a wider range of applicants, not just 20-something recent graduates. Make it clear you’d welcome applicants from all walks of life.
  • Be proactive by setting up schemes to attract career changers, especially from minority groups, to your company. You don’t have to do this alone. Recently private equity firm KKR announced it was partnering with Code First: Girls to help train more women into tech. Also, don’t forget to look at whether you can provide opportunities for any non-tech staff you have to move into more tech orientated roles.
  • Be aware of what assistance is available to you to support you in diversifying your company. One such scheme is the Government’s Access to Work grants which can assist with some of the costs of taking on disabled career changers.
  • Offer mentoring, job shadowing, and training to career changers. Tap into existing networks like Dr Black’s Tech Mums, Code First: Girls  or educational charities like WEA and see what collaborations you can come up with.

I want to change to a career in tech…

Whilst businesses can work at making themselves more attractive to the older career changer they also need a pool of potential applicants. Changing career is a daunting prospect but it needn’t be terrifying or prohibitively expensive. Here are a few tips on what you can do.

  • Read around the subject. It doesn’t need to be academic journals but regularly reading the tech section of a newspaper is a great way to start. It will give you a feel for the variety of work encompassed by the tech sector and either spark or feed your passion to want to work in it.
  • Do some training. There are plenty of free, easy to use, online training available out there if you look. Try FutureLearn as they have a wide variety of free online courses covering tech, coding, science, engineering, maths and business topics run by Universities across the world. For coding specifically try Codecademy as they offer free tasters in a wide variety of programming languages. If you’re in work see what training and support for a career change is available through your current employer – they might surprise you!
  • Find relevant groups to join for support.
  • Networking – talk to people, find out more about what’s happening in the sector and find those opportunities. Attend relevant conferences and talks if you can. Social media users can try to find relevant, interesting people to follow and engage with.

The technology sector is growing rapidly with twice as many jobs being created than in other sector (TechNation 2017). At the same time as investing in the next generation we need to find a way to fill the gaps we have now. Do this by supporting those of us who are 30+, willing to retrain and would love to come and work for you. It could make an amazing difference to your business.  

Written by Sarah Foxley

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"Why career changers are just as important as the next generation by Sarah Foxley" First published on Company Connecting January 2018

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