Tech Has a Talent Shortage. Here’s How We Can Change That. (Opinion)

David Roberts has served as Verra Mobility’s President and Chief Executive Officer since August 2014. Verra Mobility is a global leader in smart transportation. David brings more than 24 years of management experience to Verra Mobility. Prior to Verra Mobility, from April 2012 to August 2014, David was the President and Chief Executive Officer of BillingTree, a multi-channel electronic payment platform company. Prior to joining BillingTree, from August 2008 to March 2012, David was a Managing Director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, leading the Equity Plan Services business. David joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch via sale of Equity Methods, where he served as Chief Executive Officer.

Technology companies face a predicament when it comes to jobs. It’s not that the industry isn’t creating any new positions; it’s quite the opposite. Technology companies of all sizes have open roles with not enough people to fill them, and its generating constraints and headwinds for businesses and the industry at-large.

When IT outsourcer Harvey Nash and auditing firm KPMG surveyed over 3,000 technology leaders for their annual CIO Survey this year, they found 65 percent of them said hiring challenges are hurting the industry—a six-point increase over last year’s results. The Council of Advisors on Science and Technology predicts a shortfall of almost 1 million tech professionals by 2020.

Tech companies are struggling to fill these vacancies for several reasons. Skilled professionals have leverage and are demanding better wages, benefits, schedules and workplaces. They have more choices, and companies are scrambling to fill their ranks once the ultra-qualified are off the market. But that’s not all. We continue to overemphasize traditional credentials (having a bachelor’s degree) during the hiring process.

As the CEO of a tech-focused company, I see firsthand how this talent gap has the potential to stymie business growth and industry innovation. Over the next few years, we’re planning to continue expanding our services to build safer cities, smarter roadways and more inter-connected traffic systems. This includes data analysis to find trends in traffic reports, congestion pricing, toll management, as well as detecting and managing driver behavior with 5G and artificial intelligence. These projects will involve partnerships with municipal governments, rental car companies, shipping companies and ridesharing companies.

We know we’re not immune to the talent shortage in tech. Our company needs data scientists, app developers, engineers and many other similar technical roles to make these projects—and ultimately the future of smart cities—run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Cracking code for tech talent

So how can the tech industry crack this code? The most obvious answer is to rethink traditional recruiting methods. This includes increasing recruiting budgets, partnering with specialized recruiting firms to focus on specific needs and thinking more pragmatically about employer branding and recruiting overall.

Attracting tech talent is tough when smaller companies are competing with the likes of Apple, Google and other attractive tech giants that are household names with big salaries, benefits and unique cultures. It’s impossible to compete with these behemoths. But you can think about ways in which to make your offering unique and attractive to recruits. For example, our company isn’t just a technology company, it’s a people company. We know mobility impacts human lives, and the work we do gives us purpose. That’s very attractive to talent looking to make a real impact on the world.

Larger tech companies can’t always offer an intimate culture where employees are known individually by leadership. This is where smaller tech companies have an advantage and can be known for their contributions. Including employees at all levels to be a part of important conversations and feel they are encouraged to contribute their own ideas is also a great benefit.

The other very important piece of tech talent growth is retention. Companies that focus only on recruiting new talent are missing a huge opportunity to retain and grow their current bench of tech employees. It’s imperative to reward high potential employees with competitive and incremental financial benefits, but it’s also critically important to find other ways to recognize outstanding contributions. Mentorship and goal-setting is huge for employees in their career pathing and growth. Between this and the ability to rotate jobs and grow skillsets, these are benefits that many organizations offer, and tech companies must be able to compete.

While diversifying recruiting methods and focusing on retention are important, tech companies can also benefit from reevaluating its metrics for determining qualified candidates.

Beyond the resume

Rethinking the resume and placing less of an emphasis on traditional qualifications (like formal education) could be a start. Only 23 percent of cybersecurity professionals believe an IT degree adequately prepares students for a role in their industry, and yet, most job descriptions for tech-related jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Removing formal qualifications as a necessity lessens the likelihood that hiring managers prioritize educational backgrounds that match their own. We should also look out for appropriate skills, personality traits and relevant experience.

In recent years, opportunities for workers to gain prerequisite skills have increased. Twitter recently launched an engineering apprenticeship to serve women and people of color, and Amazon announced it will work to boost talent internally and invest $700 million to train about one-third of the U.S. workforce in cloud computing and machine learning. There’s also a spike in people taking online courses and coding bootcamps for programming skills, which have produced 15,000 graduates a year in the U.S. since 2015, according to Course Report.

And placing a greater priority on personality and experience can go a long way in fostering a more cohesive work environment. Asking a candidate to demonstrate their willingness to challenge themselves, work with others, their seriousness about their career growth are all ways hiring managers can determine how a candidate will fit into their company and how well they can adapt to an open position.

Updating our talent pipeline is similar to maintaining a data pipeline: the output of one element is the input of the next one. A set of variables—changing qualifications, a new set of organizational and industry goals, and a growing need to find people to solve them—are all connected and forcing us to reconfigure. So casting a wider net will bring in a new kind of tech employee, and their output can be the beginning of a brighter, more dynamic future than we can even imagine.

Our journey begins with acknowledging that things need to change, and it’s one that I’m looking forward to tackling head on.