Don’t be selfish! How community collaboration is a case of win, win, win
We live in a digital world where the need for data and software engineers is only going to increase, but there’s currently a shortage of candidates for these roles. In 2018, Accenture reported that the UK’s GDP could take a hit of up to £141 billion during the next decade because of the digital skills gap. The research also found that a third of businesses stated finding people with the right skills as being their biggest challenge. And that’s before the effect of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
What can businesses do to address the digital skills shortage? The answer is, collaborate!
At Manchester’s Digital City Festival 2021, I was asked to share my personal reflections about Infinity Works’ partnership with Generation, a charity supporting people into careers that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. It was a great opportunity to discuss the lessons learned from our collaborative, community-focused training programme for prospective young data engineers. Here are my takeaways:
Co-creation is key
Generation already ran a number of employability and training programmes in areas such as healthcare and customer service, but it was keen to do more within the digital and tech industry. Discussions between Generation and ourselves focused on a gap identified around the high demand for data engineers and how we might work together to create a new data engineering programme, helping young people and career changers gain the skills required to forge a career in this growing industry. That initial conversation went on to become the partnership we have today, which is helping to find suitable candidates to fill vacant data engineering roles. From an Infinity Works’ perspective, we’ve shared our time and expertise. Our people run the 12-week training programme and we have developed a relevant and practical technical curriculum to complement Generation’s programme structure and expertise in delivering high-quality employability training.
Focus on what employers want
It’s vital to provide candidates with the specific skills that employers need and want. For our data engineering programme participants, this meant providing foundational software engineering skills as well as practical experience of building, maintaining, and iterating data systems and data pipelines. It was also important to give participants an understanding of how data engineering fits into the wider business context, driving business decisions and supporting product development. And softer skills are equally important, including how to communicate ideas, problem-solving with peers, and building respectful, trusting relationships.
You’ll gain as much as you give
Being involved with a programme like this has led to some surprising impacts for us as a business. For those employees directly involved in the programme, leading the training or supporting individuals as volunteer mentors, we’ve all gained something. For example, having led one of the cohorts, I feel that I’m now a better communicator, I’m more empathetic, and I build better collaborative teams. And a bonus ‘win’ for Infinity Works is that we had access to a new talent pool that we didn’t know about before. We’ve since hired some of the very talented Generation candidates with the skills and behaviours we were looking for. In fact, we’ve had our most diverse entry level intake to date.
Increasingly, as part of the tendering process, clients ask for evidence that organisations are ethical and responsible businesses. Through our partnership with Generation, we’ve been able to demonstrate our social impact in a tangible way. And importantly, we’re also being inclusive in our approach, because Generation has developed a recruitment pathway that is intentionally designed to reach under-represented groups in society, targeting those who face barriers to accessing skills, training and employment opportunities.
The results speak for themselves
Generation’s programmes are designed by talking to employers to ascertain what skills and behaviours they’re seeking. The results are outstanding; 86 per cent of Generation graduates are exceeding the expectations that their employers have of entry level recruits. Just over two-thirds of graduates from Generation programmes are still with their first employer after the first 12 months of being hired, which is an excellent retention rate. And Generation is usually able to place 80% of graduates into employment within about 12 weeks of finishing the programme.
For our own part, we’re planning to continue and develop our partnership with Generation this year. I urge other business leaders to think about how they could get involved in similar programmes. Not only will you be able to drive a positive social impact, which is great for your brand and will help you win new business, but you’ll be helping to train the next generation too.
I hope this has inspired you. Why not experiment and see where it goes?