Can Tech People Thrive in Non-Tech Roles?

The World Economic Forum recently estimated 133 million new jobs will be created by 2022 to help meet the demands of digital transformation. That’s a somewhat alarming figure in a technology space that has been coping with a skills gap for years. But the group also outlines a path to fill those roles in the form of reskilling 1 billion people by 2030.

Historically, organizations seeking to acquire technical skills opted to hire additional tech talent. Now that the market for these employees has become so competitive and a post-Covid economy is squeezing budgets even further, reskilling has emerged as a way to improve internal mobility and tap into a supply of talent that organizations have largely ignored.

IT Isn’t the Only Home for Tech Talent

Between 2015 and 2020, the rates at which non-tech companies hired employees in AI, robotic process automation, and data science/analytics roles increased between 88% and 500%. What’s more, companies hired more of these tech-skilled individuals to work outside of their IT department than in it.

By embedding tech personnel into business roles, for instance, organizations ensure that teams have diversity of thought and experience, allowing them to identify and execute new opportunities. Instead of having business personnel and tech personnel try to collaborate, individuals with skills in both areas will be able to drastically improve organizational agility and offer companies a competitive advantage.

Instead of looking for these unicorns out in the wild and paying a premium for their highly sought-after skill sets, what if you could create them? Business-minded people in your organization already have extensive knowledge of customer needs and operational expectations — they just need to be brought up to speed and taught a technical skill set. 

Here’s how to identify the most promising candidates and upskill your existing workforce:

Article Continues Below

Forecast for automation. If employees have the drive and aptitude to learn a more technical skill set, retraining them is an excellent option that not only avoids displacement but also lets you fill a competitive position with someone who’s already familiar with the way your company works. When identifying where to target your retraining efforts, start with the employees whose positions are just a few years away from automation — and otherwise obsoletion.

Update your assessment strategies. Too many assessment programs try to spot employees with existing skills. But it’s the individuals who are motivated and driven to upskill who will always be more successful in their new positions. Create or use an assessment process that identifies employees with a passion to upskill above all else — and only then should you begin to pick out candidates with transferable skills such as project management or customer service.

Engage employees in retraining efforts. HR should work with the C-suite to design and implement training programs that prioritize employee engagement. Part-time training programs are a great option for on-the-side professional development, but moving previously low-tech employees into completely different digital roles requires a fully immersive retraining experience. Whenever possible, give workers the tools necessary to direct parts of their own retraining. Then watch the most motivated and passionate people rise to the top.

There’s no avoiding the investment required for upskilling, but it pales in comparison to the cost of acquiring the kind of talent you’ll need to compete moving forward. Instead of searching for some of the most sought-after job candidates in the world, retrain and retain your workforce and see where this approach can take you.

Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode has been recognized for expanding “the tech workforce by providing free coding education to disadvantaged job seekers.” Jeff lives in St. Louis with his wife and twin girls.

Topics