Skills over degrees: How can businesses overcome the industry-skills mismatch for Tech Talent?
A core supply-demand gap persists in tech talent. As Manmeet Sandhu, Chief People Officer, PhonePe, said, “There aren’t enough people trained in successfully managing engineering challenges in the current ecosystem”. The key word here is “trained talent”. As small companies set up shop, they do not have the luxury of bringing people in and taking them through extended learning programs to prepare talent. Hence the demand for readymade talent believes Manmeet. Organisations need to start thinking about these problems in a fundamental way. As external organisations like Scaler help people get role-ready, it requires positive disruption across the tech industry ecosystem.
The tech skills landscape
In the tech landscape, engineering skills are often considered objective to assess in the tech landscape, compared to non-tech roles. Manmeet shares how using hackathons and interviews for engineering hiring helps simplify and better the shortlisting process. Margaret Dsouza, Head of People Success, Zeta Suite, adds how the environment is crucial to skills success. “At Zeta, we build ownership at squad levels and provide growth opportunities by helping people take up roles beyond their immediate ones. It is up to the individual to want to take the opportunities”. Organisations must ensure they take talent along with them, curating learning journeys for upskilling talent even in emerging areas. This requires a mindset of openness to give people opportunities. For example, Zeta has people joining management roles and switching to product, basis their potential and learning curves. Abhimanyu Saxena, Co-founder of Scaler, agrees that the T-shaped learning graph, with exposure to diverse fields, helps people perform better. Margaret elaborates how this can be done with a two-fold strategy i.e.
- investing in raw talent from campuses and exposing them to a learning environment
- hiring lateral talent from other domains/industries, i.e. tech masters with skills such as learnability, adaptability, self-motivation and application of knowledge.
“Getting emerging talent is about finding the right attitude and traits through newer channels such as crowdsourcing”, said Margaret.
Rajasekhar Khandrika, VP-Engineering, Xpressbees, agrees on the importance of wider skills, stating that ownership, accountability and learnability are key capabilities at Xpressbees. His advice is to dig deeper into the human psyche and understand people better by asking for specific examples. “We have to be able to place bets on some individuals, and over time we must build capability to form a model and training hiring managers to place reasonable bets”, he said.
Building a high-performance tech team
The right capability-building model is crucial to building a high-performance culture. At Xpressbees, a tech-focused, not tech-first approach was undertaken, starting with deriving a tech roadmap from the company’s objectives and growth plans. This was followed by crafting a tech-competency framework and outlining expectations at each level. Finally, creating an organisation pyramid to seek clarity and help achieve success. Rajasekhar elaborated, “First, we identified the critical mass of senior and seasoned engineers to form the nucleus and around that built on the junior and high-potential talent pool. Mentoring and training create a long upskilling journey of 3-5 years”. Manmeet agrees that it is about the willingness to invest time and effort and ‘giving a chance” for people to implement their knowledge and understanding. For example, the PhonePe university cuts across functions with an objective to accelerate career growth by hand-holding people. “Mentoring people and giving them complex challenges to solve helps them understand the need to give back”, quipped Manmeet. Indeed, high performance results from a process of taking the learning and translating it into the best ways to work.
Cultivating a learning culture
Learning must align with business and talent outcomes. According to Margaret, it stems from understanding the future business landscape and building foresight to pivot one’s existing talent. “In the past 2-3 years, we took a big leap towards multi-cloud deployment at a scale that should put us years ahead in terms of other tech organisations. To bring this change, we looked at what was the critical talent we would need”, she shared. Most importantly, learning must have leadership involvement. At Zeta, the co-founder and CTO themselves conducted upskilling sessions. Fireside chats with leaders curated learning journeys, deep learning sessions, assignments, pre-reads, and community learning helped move from academy-based to real, on-the-job learning. Leaders themselves understanding the first principles and driving the change was a big step towards learning adoption.
Assessing and reassessing learning outcomes
To gain leadership buy-in, the learning outcomes must be clearly defined and constantly measured. Margaret highlights the need to move away from standard metrics and to understand the problem at hand. Zeta started with assessments to help people understand banking tech nuances such as governance, regulations, outage time, etc., then tied these to the right end metrics. “Today, we are part of a leadership debate about how learning fits. At the end of the day, learning success is connected to who is the end user and what is the value add from a business offering standpoint?” said Margaret. PhonePe follows a two-fold approach of measurement, i.e. assessing the complexity of business problems a person can solve and outlining specific learnings for the person to translate to superior output in their day-to-day job. We should keep asking, “Are they able to leverage the learning to perform well?”, said Manmeet.
Despite all efforts, the issue of learning adoption persists. Adoption must be driven at all levels- employees, managers and leaders. Rajasekhar shares how putting the onus of learning on engineering managers ensures timely feedback about the learning process. Creating a pull requires high-quality learning experiences and highlighting the WIIFM for employees, believes Manmeet. Margaret agreed, “We cannot mandate learning today, they need to believe in taking it up”. Leadership sponsorships, discussions with managers to build line-of-sight and engaging pulls such as social learning, are must-haves to build a consistent learning culture. Abhimanyu agreed that buy-in from learners themselves and having their skin in the game are the key to unlocking a learning organisation.