The skills shortage facing the global tech industry is now widely known, with many employers voicing concerns over recruiting the talent necessary to grow their business.

According to the World Economic Forum, there could be as many as 756,000 unfilled jobs in the European ICT Sector by 2020, with the number of jobs in the tech industry 69.49% higher than the number of enrolments in related university courses, according to Bidwells.

But aside from warnings about the impact the skills gap could have on the industry, what is being done to close it?

Generation is an international non-profit youth employability programme with the mission of training and placing young people in jobs they otherwise may not have had access to. It focuses on a number of different industries, but in the UK has a particular focus on tech, namely the fast-growing cloud computing, data engineering and software sectors.

Verdict sat down with Mona Mourshed, Mona Mourshed, president and CEO of Generation, and Michael Houlihan, COO of Generation UK, to find out more.

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Ellen Daniel: What is Generation?

Mona Mourshed: We are a nonprofit, and we launched five years ago. What we do is recruit, train and place learners in careers. And we’re focused on those individuals where we can really make a transformation in their life because they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access that career.

Although there are lots of programmes that train people at a very large volume, the job placement level would typically be no more than 30-40%. And then on the other side of the spectrum, there are programmes that train and place graduates in careers…but they would be typically quite small volume in terms of annual graduates, so hundreds or low thousands. The question for us was could we create something that is going to deliver high job placements and retention on the job, deliver an ROI to employers in terms of business outcomes, and be global and cost effective? And Generation was born.

We started in five countries in 2015: the US Spain, India, Mexico and Kenya. And then we now have expanded to another eight. So we’re now in 13 countries, 150 cities and 36,000 graduates. We have an 80% job placement rate within three months, and at the one year mark, nearly 70% of our graduates continue to be on the job.

ED: What sort of people are typically involved in Generation programmes?

MM: Our learners are typically secondary school graduates. And some of them also have had access to higher education but have dropped out either for financial reasons or just other situations happening in their life. There are exceptions. So like in Spain, we will have people who have master’s degrees in our programmes because in Spain, you’ve got 35-40% youth unemployment. And they earn two to six times the income that they had before generation, and collectively they’ve now earned $300m in income.

Last year, we began expanding our learner profile. So we introduced what we call Regeneration which is focused on mid career workers in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who have lost their jobs to automation or digitisation or who are caregivers returning to the job markets. We’re really excited about that, because there are very few programmes on the ground, let alone globally, that are serving that population.

ED: How do the Generation programmes work?

MM: We confirm job vacancies with employers before the training begins, then the bootcamp itself is four to 12 weeks. We work across 26 professions, so that time varies by profession. We’re in tech, healthcare, customer service and skilled trades. We offer social support services in parallel to the boot camp. And then once our graduates complete the programme, they interview with our employer partners.

Once they’re on the job, we then track the ROI. And when I say the ROI for our graduates, it’s personal and financial wellbeing, and for our employers is things like productivity outcomes and quality outcomes. And the reason why we spend a lot of time on this is because the only way to break through bias, be it conscious or unconscious, is by showing that there actually is strong business performance.

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Each bootcamp teaches a combination of technical skills, behavioral skills and mindsets that you need to perform at a high level in that profession. So we do something that we call activity mapping, which is we shadow employees in our target profession across multiple employers. And we create a map of: what are the 30 activities that you do in your day in this profession? Then of those activities, which are the ones that really drive productivity and quality, performance?

That focus on activities first, skills second, is what allows us to take a curriculum that might otherwise be six months or could be a year and allows us to scrunch it down into exactly what we need to be able to perform this job. And that’s been really critical for us.

ED: What have you observed about the global skills gap?

MM: Unsurprisingly, the tech skills gap is pervasive. The main difference though is in some cities, we find that employers are more willing to take on an entry level hire and then support that individual as they grow in experience, versus others that want to hire someone with one to two years of experience. And so they focus more on poaching people from other [organisations].

Employers are desperate, and when employers are desperate, that’s when the methodology works best because that’s when they’re willing to take a chance on someone who doesn’t look like a university degree holder with a STEM background. They’re willing to say if you can demonstrate that you can do this role, then we take you in and we also recognise that we have to play a role to support them. But that type of attitude is not consistent across countries.

How is Generation tackling this in the UK?

Michael Houlihan: There are lots of jobs within tech that we could have targeted. We narrowed in on cloud computing and there are lots of characteristics of cloud computing that make it a particularly fruitful place to start. One is it’s very new. So it just did not exist 10 years ago.

So the education sector has definitely not caught up with cloud computing. There’s not enough people being trained in that area. And from an industry point of view there has been absolutely explosive growth. When you look at numbers, it is astonishing how big a sector that has become in ten years. So there is an absolutely massive and acute skills gap. And there are viable entry level roles.

If you look at the numbers, software engineering is the highest volume job and that’s why we partnered with Whitehat and built a programme around software engineering, and in software engineering, we see some really good existing provision and programmes so we thought that our role in that system was to widen access and feed people onto existing training programmes.

So we’ve been going through the same process to identify other tech gaps. We’re now bringing on data engineering, which is another area where we see explosive growth. Lots of shortage of skills and again, entry level roles which are viable. We can get people to a point of mastery that makes then valuable to an employer within 12 weeks. So that would be our portfolio of three tech programmes. And then it may grow further from there.

When we open up a class where we’ve got 25 slots, we will get 300 applications plus. For people who are trying to get into the tech sector that have not been able to, a programme such as this, which offers them a fairly clear pathway to get to a £25,000 job is very attractive. I think the salaries are attract and being in the tech sector is attractive. I think that the problem that you do sometimes see is people do not identify with those jobs because they think you need an A in maths to be good at tech. So they almost rule themselves out because STEM didn’t work out for them. But STEM is no requirement to be great in tech.

ED: How important are alternative routes to university education?

MH: I think [university education is] one route, and an important route, but it is not the only route. And the country has put a lot into the university system and it’s great for some things, but it is not the appropriate route for all jobs. There are other routes. Apprenticeships are one route. Bootcamps are another route.

It’s been great to see some private sector organisations that run boot camps. People like Makers Academy or Tenacity or Whitehat have proven that the model works.

You do not always need to train for three years to get mastery in skills. And arguably, that’s inefficient investments for some people and some roles were actually 12 weeks is sufficient to become job ready.

ED: How important is diversity in closing the skills gap?

MH: Diversity means different learning journeys, different learning journeys means that teams can come together and do things in different ways. So I think there’s now a lot of awareness and excitement around that as a concept. And organisations are trying to do that.

The other reason they are doing this is because they absolutely have to. If they do not recruit through other channels, there is fierce competition for the software developers that are out there. And if they do not manage to bag those people, they will not be able to grow their organisations or their products will be out-competed because they haven’t got the best technologists. Employers use that language to me on almost a weekly basis as to be competitive, they have to recruit well and recruit from a wider set.


Read more: STEM Day: How closing the skills gap benefits us all.