Skip to main content

Minnesota leaders unite to close technology skills and diversity gap

Posted in: Business, Education, Jamf

With technology seemingly everywhere and in the hands of people of all walks of life, why is there such a discrepancy when it comes to the hiring practices of the tech industry? This was the topic of conversation today at JAMF Software, where U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison and other technology leaders gathered for a roundtable organized by the Minnesota High Tech Association to discuss ways to close the tech skills gap and empower more people with the tools to succeed in the world’s fastest growing industry.

Moving away from the boys’ club
Walk into any tech corporation and the majority of faces will be male and white. This is certainly not lost on Congressman Ellison. “We’re trying to help people get careers in something they are passionate about,” he said. “We want them to know they can contribute, regardless of what package they come in.”

JAMF Software CEO, Dean Hager, believes a major step in opening the tech door for more individuals is to start them young and make computer science classes mandatory in all schools. “One of the greatest injustices is that we are not starting people young enough in the area of tech,” said Hager. “And, in most curriculums, math and science classes are required, but computer science is not even offered.”

While computer science careers are not for everyone, not exposing people to technology professions nor providing a platform to teach people these skills is a surefire way to limit the talent pool.

Tech programs available to broaden the talent
Rose Lindsay, Community Planning and Economic Development Communications for the City of Minneapolis, says there are great programs in Minneapolis that offer tech training. “MSP TechHire helps women, minorities and other candidates who don’t have traditional tech backgrounds receive desktop support and training on computer programming.” Lindsay reports that this program — started by President Obama in 2015 — has placed 318 individuals in tech roles.   

Utilizing tech programs that provide incremental steps to prepare future coders and programmers is a great way to better prepare individuals and pair them with the right role adds Loren Horsager of Mobile Composer.

In an effort to get all Minnesota tech companies on the same page and working with each other to change this issue trajectory, Clockwork Media initiated a Minnesota Technology Diversity Pledge, where agencies, corporations, small businesses and software companies are committing to changing the workforce to be more inclusive of underrepresented communities.

Changing hiring and recruiting practices
Meghan Wilker of Clockwork Media says the tech industry needs to start looking closely at how they are crafting job descriptions. Being attractive to a broader audience, and writing job descriptions in a way that does not immediately make candidates “self select out” ensures organizations receive more applications and a larger collection of talented individuals — regardless of age, sex, race and economic status.

“The tech industry needs to attract talent by letting them know that this is where they belong and can succeed,” said Wilker. “Thinking about cultural contribution instead of cultural fit is one way to avoid continually seeing job candidates that look like us.”

Hiring managers and HR need to get on the same page about the process. Where some managers want to go through certain employment programs to ensure diversity, HR may not be familiar with these programs or comfortable with their practices.

On the flip side, HR may want to sort through a larger number of resumes to open the hiring process up to a greater number of diverse candidates, but hiring managers need a candidate immediately — one who can hit the ground running. When this is the case, all too often immediate need trumps the desire for diversity.

“The pool of technical talent is too low and typically white male,” said Hager. “To be diverse, you need to want it. Tech companies have to decide that they are willing to work harder to broaden the talent that is coming in.”

Opening the doors to more
While there is much work to be done, today’s roundtable discussion was a step in the right direction to providing more opportunities to more individuals. Congressman Ellison summed it up best by saying, “We have a massive population using tech products, but not writing them. It will do us some good to figure out how to connect people to fix this problem.”