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Germany's skills shortage is homemade - new career ways for a new world of work

8th January 2019

Motivation, learning ability & soft skills must be the decisive criteria - no grades or degrees

How new work thinking and diversity are creating more digital talent

By Dalia Das, founder and CEO of neue fische.

To get a job, you actually have to have done it before - that's how Wharton professor Peter Capelli sums it up in his book "Why Good People Cannot Find Jobs." No wonder so many jobs go unfilled today. What's more, 85 percent of the jobs and careers that today's students will be doing in 2030 don't even exist now. If we're going to meet these challenges, we need change in how we select candidates: Grades, degrees and prior experience are increasingly taking a back seat. Instead, motivation, the ability to learn, and soft skills must be the decisive selection criteria - job and career boundaries must become more permeable.

Numerous companies of all sectors, sizes and orientations are complaining about too few and, above all, insufficiently tailored applications. For example, BITKOM reported around 55,000 vacant IT positions at the end of 2017. Yet the average time it takes to fill such a position in this country is 130 to 150 days. And the trend is rising. Of course, one of the reasons for this is that in recent decades we have failed to make STEM subjects so exciting in schools that subsequent study of these subjects seems desirable. And, of course, most universities have failed to make their computer science programs more practical and relevant to the job market. As a result, studying computer science has become less attractive, enrollment numbers are dropping, and the demand for digital professionals can hardly be fed from this source. Giveaway. In the discussion about the shortage of skilled workers, however, two other aspects often get far too little attention and at the same time represent important approaches to solving the problem. 

Career boundaries must become more permeable, and why New Work also needs New Education.

Educational institutions and companies are still often stuck in traditional thought patterns that are characterized by school grades, formal degrees and previous work experience. Admission to university is regulated by high school graduation grades, while competency-based selection procedures are a rarity at Germany's universities. And to get a job, you actually have to have done it before - as Wharton professor Peter Capelli sums it up in his book "Why Good People Cannot Find Jobs." No wonder so many jobs go unfilled today. If we continue on the trajectory of a formalized education system, the problem will only get worse. For example, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) estimates that 85 percent of the jobs today's students will be doing in 2030 don't even exist yet - meaning we don't even know what those jobs will look like.

Grades, degrees and previous experience will increasingly take a back seat in the selection of candidates and motivation, learning ability and soft skills will be the decisive selection criteria instead - job and career boundaries must therefore become more permeable. 
At neue fische, we see ourselves as a modern education company and live New Work principles every day. In selecting our participants, we are open to career changers who convince us in our selection processes that they want to enter a new digital future and demonstrate their ability to communicate and learn.

We are looking for dropouts as well as people who simply weren't happy in their old job and want to start something new again. We are looking for humanities graduates who often find it difficult to fit a job ad, but who don't want to be penalized for their passionate studies. We are looking for engineers and scientists who see algorithms as an opportunity and want to learn machine learning techniques. In short, we are looking for people who are willing to actively and self-determinedly help shape digitization. We would like to put them all in a position to work in a job as a backend developer or data scientist as quickly as possible, and soon in other digital fields of activity.

With this approach, we are also addressing the second issue that is both a problem and a solution in the IT world: diversity. We not only enable career changers to actively participate in digitization, but also explicitly encourage women to apply to us. They bring just as much interest and talent for digital professions. This is borne out by experience from tech boot camps in the U.S., through which more than 10,000 women successfully entered new digital professions in 2017 alone. By the way, we now have our own statistics: Half of our participants were women and almost all of them are now working in their new digital dream jobs.
 Not only in the selection of our participants, but also in our teaching, we focus on aspects of New Work. Experienced practitioners teach in modern workspaces and see themselves less as pure knowledge brokers and more as coaches and mentors. No time for theory-heavy frontal teaching according to dusty books! Instead, we use modern working environments to develop new ideas in an agile manner, either in teams or alone. We learn how modern companies work, and we also draw on elements of dual training in the skilled trades. Because at the end of our camps, the individual digital journeyman's piece is a real work sample of one's new skills. That's convincing. Prospects and employers alike.

Everyone deserves an employer who fits. Modern work cultures and recruiting strategies as a success factor in the war for talent.

Exactly a year ago, I founded neue fische. And it's always the case that every career changer story we write at neue fische makes me a little proud. Take Lena, for example, who recently recorded her journey for XING Klartext. After studying business administration, she was doing well in her job as a media planner, but wasn't really happy. Her search for the right change led her via New Zealand to a web project with friends. Here, strategy and logical thinking were also required. But to get the project on the road, it needed a coder. That became Lena's new role - one she was excited about. In our neue fische web developer intensive bootcamp, she professionalized her initially self-taught skills. Immediately after graduation, she had several job offers in her pocket. She joined the digital agency SinnerSchrader - now part of the global Accenture Interactive Group - as a junior product engineer. 

Our PhD in molecular biology, Sarah, also found a job that suited her. She expanded her experience from microbiology to include applied data science and started in her dream job at our partner Hummingbird Diagnostics in Heidelberg just 14 days after graduation. The company works on innovative mechanisms for the early detection of tumor diseases, the most common cause of death in Germany, and set a task for the digital journeyman. Sarah convinced the team and got on board. Data Science in medicine - an application with life-saving possibilities.

In a world where digital professionals are in short supply, roles have changed. Digital talents know their value and seek employers with perspectives and working conditions that fit their situation and life. The cultural fit, i.e., the congruence of lived values between the company and its employees, has long since become a relevant factor. This fit is becoming a fixed factor alongside professional competence. And this applies in both directions. Application processes are no longer a one-way street.

For a long time, startups in the digital industry set the tone in terms of work culture. That's because they offered something that many larger companies lacked: identification and flexibility.

Employer branding and diversity as part of our concept for success - and that of our partner companies.  

As a founder, I am convinced that those companies have a competitive advantage that live and promote diversity in a world that has grown together globally - especially when it comes to recruiting skilled workers. When linguists become frontend developers and biologists become data scientists, talent is more available, careers are more permeable, interdisciplinary thinking is the order of the day. When women make up 50 percent of graduates instead of just 17 percent, companies become more diverse and IT teams more mixed. And in all of this, recruiting is becoming easier and cheaper, innovation cycles are getting shorter and growth is happening faster. 

By the end of this year, we will have trained nearly 200 people for digital jobs. Over 80 percent of our graduates so far have found jobs as software developers or data scientists immediately after successfully completing the bootcamps. They work in small startups like ContentFlow and Hummingbird Diagnostics, in large startups like AboutYou, in digital agencies like SinnerSchrader and Deep Blue Networks, and in large corporations like OTTO. Each at a well-known employer that suits them and their career aspirations.
The fact that we are actively contributing to this change with neue fische makes us proud and grateful. "The best way to complain is to make things," the American musician James Murphy once said. A motto that I like very much and will also live by in 2019.

Happy New Year! 
Your Dalia

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