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Building Tech Talent

How to Find Workers With Disruptive Skills

September 9, 2021 by Clare Coffey

Most employers who need the hottest skills in tech are missing out on a big opportunity: developing the workers they already have. A new report from Emsi Burning Glass, Building a Disruptive Workforce, shows that employers are definitely on a buying spree to find the top 10 disruptive IT skills that are reshaping the tech industry (see the full list below). Yet only 31% of workers with these disruptive skills were hired internally.

AI and Machine Learning, Cloud Technologies, Connected Technologies, Fintech, IT Automation, Natural Language Processing, Parallel Computing, Proactive Security, Quantum Computing, Software Development Methodologies

Any employer, faced with technological change, has to make a choice whether to find talent outside or train up their existing staff. People in the world of talent acquisition refer to this as the “build or buy” decision. How they choose to execute that people strategy makes an enormous difference in how companies succeed (or not). These are high-stakes choices: the top 10 skills are called for in 1.7 million job postings and are projected to grow 17% to 135% over the next five years.

Right now the data says employers are choosing to “buy” talent in skills like cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and fintech. But while this can help bring in new talent, it can be costly and leaves employers fighting over a relatively small pool of workers. The report suggests that employers may be missing an opportunity to build the disruptive skills they need by upskilling existing workers.

The report examined the career profiles of hundreds of millions of workers to identify the patterns behind these shifting skills. Key findings of the report include:

Disruptive workers can come from anywhere, so companies need to look everywhere. In fact, employers are traveling far afield to find these skills. About two-thirds of existing disruptive tech workers moved into their current role from a different occupation. More than half of existing practitioners—those who do the actual tech work–were sourced from a different industry.

The pipeline of new talent into disruptive roles is clogged, hindering the growth of new workers into disruptive fields. There are several indicators that these high-value skills are tough for new workers to break into.

  • Only 16% of disruptive tech workers were hired as entry-level workers, and;
  • Only 5% of disruptive tech workers have less than a bachelor’s degree. 

This means it may be difficult to grow the talent pool for these skills. Getting a bachelor’s degree takes time, and if workers don’t have entry level opportunities there will continue to be a shortage of higher-level workers down the road. In addition, this may hinder diversity goals if employers are not seeking out workers from new fields or backgrounds. 

So part of the solution may be more employers investing in building entry-level, diverse opportunities to expand their pipeline of disruptive tech workers. 

“Building” talent doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose it. Retention of practitioners—tech workers rather than managers–is roughly equivalent regardless of whether the workers were developed internally or hired externally. This suggests that one fear employers have about internal training — that giving workers new skills will encourage them to find jobs elsewhere — is overblown.

The same isn’t true of managers, however: managers with these disruptive skills sourced from outside the organization were 61% more likely to stay for at least two years than internal promotions. In these cases, “buying” talent may be the better option.

For more details, download Building a Disruptive Workforce: Sourcing Talent in a Time of Change.

Clare Coffey

[email protected]

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