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Harnessing potential, promoting talent & careers: New ways to combat the shortage of skilled workers

23rd August 2018

How to face the digital transformation

Why Germany should urgently open up a path into the digital economy for career changers as well 

by Dalia Das, founder and CEO of neue fische

One elementary key to mastering the digital transformation lies in attracting qualified employees. Last fall, the industry association BITKOM reported that around 55,000 IT jobs were not being filled due to a lack of corresponding specialists. That is around eight percent more than in 2016, and it is to be feared that this trend will become more entrenched. This is because it contrasts with falling student numbers in the field of computer science: with 37,400 students, 4.1 percent fewer people took up computer science studies in 2017 than a year earlier.

Shortage of skilled workers is another word for thwarted digital transformation

The consequences are already visible today. One in five companies is already unable to find suitable personnel and cannot drive forward digital transformation fast enough, the management consultancy Ernst & Young recently determined through a survey of more than 3,000 companies in Germany. The Bundesverband der mittelständischen Wirtschaft (German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) came to a similar conclusion in a survey of 2,000 SMEs: the lack of digital specialists is the most important reason for the failure to expand digital business. The need for digital transformation has reached almost all companies across all industries.

Why a shortage of skilled workers arises and where it leads to

In Germany, a shortage of skilled workers and a sluggish digital transformation go hand in hand. If we allow this development to continue, it will lead Germany as an industrial nation to the siding. Many people point to the lack of career support for young people and especially for women in childhood. There is no doubt that children should be made interested in digital technologies at an early age and introduced to programming by the end of their primary school years at the latest - and yes, this also applies to girls in particular, because they often lack appropriate female role models. But it's not enough to blame education policy and wait for the young talents of the day after tomorrow. We need to discover and promote talent and careers now! We have the potential, for example, of humanities graduates, dropouts and career changers from other professions. With regard to training, creativity and new concepts are simply needed to pave constructive ways out of the shortage of skilled workers.

A strategy to combat the shortage of skilled workers: creativity and a rock star image instead of a dusty textbook culture

Because: The view persists that coding or web development is a dry affair with little fun and even fewer design options. A misconception! This is due to the fact that computer science instruction (whether at school or in continuing education) is far too often still based on outdated textbooks. A look at the curricula of various providers also shows: hopelessly outdated! Teaching methods are also often outdated: people spend weeks on basics and introductory sessions instead of simulating concrete use cases and simply showing students how to program their own website or computer game. In our 3-month coding bootcamps based on the American model, we strive to do justice to this balancing act between theory and practice. With us, learning can also be fun.

Career training formats, approach, culture and perspectives are too often aimed at the male majority and hardly at women.

However, we hear time and again: There are too few applications overall. There are also far too few female applications to match the numerous unfilled positions in the industry. But if more than 10,000 women successfully completed a bootcamp in the U.S. in 2017 alone, are we really dealing with a lack of interest, inclination or even ability on the part of women? Is Germany once again very different from other countries? Absolutely not, and we can say that from our own experience: more than half of the over 200 applications we received for our 15 places in the first bootcamp came from women, and as a founder I am quite proud of the fact that we were also able to award 60% of the places to women. We didn't set ourselves a quota - our selection process, which consists of a multi-stage personal interview and a coding exercise, is gender-neutral; also, participation is open not only to successful graduates of a university degree program, but also to career changers. 

Wanted: Diversity! Fair, transparent and gender-neutral: the digital journeyman.

In view of the high demand for digital specialists, companies in Germany are also opening up to male and female applicant profiles outside the norm - and are thus joining a trend that is already further advanced in the UK and the USA. But: Diversity must be assessable. But what counts for us is motivation and the ability to achieve a steep learning curve in a short period of time, rather than grades and tested knowledge. It's not the formal degree that counts, but the ability: what he or she is able to implement in concrete terms. The assessment of actual work quality will be weighted more heavily than the fulfillment of formal criteria such as a degree. This "skill-based hiring" promotes diversity. Ernst & Young reported in the spring that it had been able to increase its diversity quota for new hires by 10 percent by means of this process, because the company was excluding too many talented and motivated lateral hires through high formal criteria. In the end, it is the actual skills of the employees that determine the economic success of a company more than their degrees.

We support this trend because, in our eyes, it is also part of the solution if we want to deal constructively with the shortage of skilled workers. At our company, this thinking is reflected in the "digital journeyman's piece". A work sample that makes the willingness to learn visible in an impressively tangible way, the actual skill, the craft. Almost all of our graduates were able to find careers as web developers with permanent jobs within the first month of completing the bootcamp. Our approach of harnessing new potential for the digital transformation in Germany, innovating education, and connecting closer to the job market will hopefully set a precedent and inspire many more people to follow suit.

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