Even Silicon Valley Giants Struggle Keeping Tech Talent. Here's How to Do Better.
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Wondering why your technology talent pool is drying up or why you just can’t retain the tech workers you’ve managed to corral into your startup? You’re not alone. According to the Federal Reserve District’s January 2019 “Beige Book” report, tech is among the tightest labor markets in the country right now. And across industries with a labor gap, tech’s happens to be growing the fastest. This spells trouble for startups, as young companies simply can’t grow without skilled tech workers. (In fact, lack of talent is one of the top reasons startups fail, according to CB Insights.) These employees are essential to building a company’s brand and making them competitive in their market. With all that’s at stake, it’s crucial that fledgling companies have access to quality tech talent from the beginning.
That need for qualified technologists has spread far beyond Silicon Valley. A report from Indeed showed that non-tech companies are increasingly recruiting tech talent, spreading the talent pool thinner without providing opportunities to introduce more candidates into the pipeline. Amazon alone is looking to fill 30,000 open positions by next year, including tech-related roles in software engineering.
This isn’t the only problem. Because competition for tech talent is steep, technologists can hop from company to company as they please, and employers offer up lavish perks such as free meals and state-of-the-art offices without much return on investment. Even juggernauts such as Uber and Facebook have dismal employee turnaround: According to the San Francisco Business Times, the average tenure at these companies is generally a couple of years.
The skills gap among those with computer-science degrees plays yet another role. Workers coming from traditional four-year computer-science programs often graduate with skills that aren’t relevant to the field. In fact, HackerRank notes that 65 percent of developers are partially self-taught. They still have to put in extra hours to master skills their degrees never covered.
This is a significant issue for companies seeking talent that’s proficient in newer programming languages -- ones that aren’t yet taught by colleges and universities. When it comes to recruiting and retaining tech talent, the deck is certainly stacked against businesses, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Consider these four steps to ensure you’re building the best working relationship with your tech team.
1. Create an inclusive, diverse environment.
The tech industry is notorious for its lack of diversity, but today’s employees expect an inclusive workplace. According to Randstad US, 78 percent of workers say an employer’s ability to treat everyone equally is important to them. This should come as no surprise. To meet employee expectations, your startup should be mindful of the kind of work culture you’re creating and ensure it’s one where everyone feels accepted. This isn’t just about hiring more women and people of color; building a diverse workplace should go beyond statistics or meeting quotas. Diversity encompasses not only differences in race, gender, age and sexual orientation, but also thought and perspective. Prioritizing well-rounded diversity initiatives will not only attract tech workers, but strengthen your entire business as well.
2. Offer workspace flexibility.
Startups might not be able to offer tech workers a salary that competes with giants such as Facebook or Amazon, but they can make their workplace attractive in many other ways. One of the perks of tech companies is that employees can easily telecommute. In fact, Digital Ocean notes that 43 percent of developers list this perk as a critical factor when selecting a job. Offering employees the option to work on projects remotely is a great way to attract talent from all walks of life, from those with family responsibilities at home to people who simply work best outside a traditional office space.
3. Hire people who believe in your service (and hold yourself accountable).
Startups that depend on a small staff to move their business forward should hire people who truly believe in the company’s mission. This will go a long way in terms of both productivity and communications strategy. For new businesses, word of mouth is everything. You’ll want the people working for you to be great brand ambassadors wherever they go.
This also includes staying true to your mission. In the past few years, many household-name tech companies have strayed from their values, compromising everything from user privacy to employee well-being. We know that when these activities make headlines, employees head for the hills. If you’re going to bring in talent based on your values, you should certainly hold yourself to the same standard.
4. Provide mentorship opportunities.
Tech workers also want an employer that regularly provides growth opportunities. This is in their best interest. As more tasks are automated and technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning become the norm, tech employees will have to adapt. Implementing a robust mentorship program benefits both employers and employees in this way. Recruits can learn about workplace culture from a senior staff member, and the mentor often feels a sense of ownership and pride as he or she strengthens the company’s team. A 2017 report by consulting firm FSG found that mentorship helped increase both loyalty and productivity among employees. It’s also a relatively low-cost addition to your training tools, especially considering the potential return involved.
Finally, keep the work exciting. Like other types of employees, tech workers want to feel challenged in their roles. In my work with many entry-level technologists, I’ve found that they want to learn on the job by taking on more complex tasks, even in the apprenticeship stage. After all, coders enjoy solving problems. If their employer doesn’t present new, exciting challenges, they’ll find another one that can.
The first step to attracting and retaining talent is to look inward. If you’re offering a challenging, enriching position at a company with a top-notch mission and values, the right tech talent will be certain to look your way.