Interview: The Case for ‘Diversity of Mind’ in Employees


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Posted In: Workforce Insight, Workforce Research

Feb • 13 • 2017

College for America recently published The Liberal Arts at the Office: Addressing the New Skills Gap, an ebook that collects the insights of several thought leaders on how companies are confronting the challenge of developing foundational lifelong skills in entry-level and frontline employees.

 

One of those experts was Joe Mitchell, Executive Vice President of University Partnerships at Revature, which provides training for entry-level information technology jobs to college students and recent college graduates through online and in-person coding courses and bootcamps.

 

Revature then places its students in jobs with their employer-partners. Revature works closely with universities and employers to customize bootcamps to the specific workplace needs, which helps ensure students finish the program with a foundation for the long term and a skill set that is in demand in the short term.

 

Although the focus is on IT, not all of Revature’s students are computer science majors. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, with about 25 percent having no previous coding experience. This has given Revature an interesting point of view on the interplay of the liberal arts and technical skills.

 

Mitchell had more to say on the subject than we were able to include in the ebook, so we offer you this longer version of his interview.

 

You are working with higher ed, with employers, and with students. What trends are you observing?

 

We see more non-STEM graduates pursuing careers in technology. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs available for college graduates with the right skills, and there are multiple pathways for graduates to gain those skills. Coding bootcamps have helped graduates from all disciplines gain in-demand skills, however with the average coding bootcamp today costing over $12,000 for a 12-week program, it is an extremely prohibitive path.

 

More recently, we are seeing greater collaboration between universities, corporations, and no-cost career pathway providers, like Revature, to provide alternative and accelerated pathways to in-demand, high paying jobs. I’ve seen firsthand how important this is to university leadership and how committed they are to ensuring their graduates have valuable career opportunities.

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What benefit do your employer partners see in hiring technology employees from non-IT backgrounds?

 

If you start with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills and then add a deep set of in-demand industry skills like coding, that combination is compelling to large employers. A lot of people think the push for diversity is just about gender and race, but it’s much more than that — it’s diversity of mind, too.

 

Rather than having a group of engineers who all went through the same program, liberal arts students can see things differently. They can bring creativity, collaboration, and team building skills. They can be very dynamic and often bring a different perspective to the team. Employees with these skills are able to communicate well, whether that’s with business analysts, senior management, or other people on the software development team.

 

How does this pay off for students?

 

We don’t just see this as a stepping stone to your first job. Many Revature associates have gone on to become really successful at various companies across the country. The reason is that they’re coming in well-rounded with a strong combination of soft skills, in-demand technical skills, and a solid work ethic. Our partners are not just looking for coders, they are looking for the next generation of leaders who truly understand their businesses.

 

Getting noticed early helps. Being able to hit the ground running in a large organization is incredibly valuable. If you get a good first job and you perform well, chances are you’ll get recognized, and you’ll be put on the management track or moved to another department that could provide different career opportunities.

 

Have you noticed a skills gap between graduating students and what employers want?

 

Employers value a liberal arts education, but at the same time they’re still looking for people with good strong technical skills. There’s a shortage in the number of students who are ready to enter the workforce, but I don’t think you can put any blame on universities. Not everybody wants to go into the STEM fields where new jobs are opening, and some alternative pathways to gain those skills are prohibitively expensive.

 

I think there has always been a skills gap but over the last 15 years two things have happened: One, the demand for tech professionals has soared. Two, employers have been less willing to invest heavily in the training of college graduates. In the absence of having readily available tech talent, employers have looked to offshore work at a lower cost.

 

I think the we are going to see much stronger relationships between colleges, corporations. and pathway providers, which will make some headway toward bridging the skills gap and provide more meaningful employment opportunities to many talented yet underemployed graduates.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges for employers looking for well-rounded students?

 

Finding really good talent is one of if not the biggest challenge employers face. The major players are spending millions — if not tens of millions — of dollars on graduate recruitment programs. Some, like Goldman Sachs, have typically targeted the top ten or twenty schools in the country. Now they want to encourage more diversity in their recruitment efforts, so they are expanding their online interviewing process across hundreds of campuses.

 

That speaks volumes to the need for not just finding people who are smart, but people from diverse backgrounds with different experiences and perspectives who can help companies to be more dynamic and relevant to solve tomorrow’s challenges. Diversity is critical and you have to cast a wide net if you want to truly reap the benefits diversity can bring.