Bridging the Tech Talent Gap in Cleveland

It is one of the most frequently talked about business challenges…with so many companies looking to hire tech talent; does Cleveland have the chops to keep up? As just a small example of what tech companies are up against, Indeed currently has over 1000 developer jobs posted in Cleveland (someone, please call me when that approach starts working).

To combat the challenge, I often hear companies debate building their tech hub in another city or preparing to relocate talent in. While those may be solutions, Cleveland isn’t alone and the problem isn’t going anywhere. Right now, according to code.org, there are 586,107 tech jobs nationwide, and in 2014 only 38,175 computer science students graduated into the workforce. They predict that by 2020 there will be 1M more tech jobs than graduating students, leaving numerous cities in the US to commiserate with the sentiments of our local tech hiring managers:

“There are no true product shops here like you find in Silicon Valley.”

“So few companies use the newer technologies in Cleveland.”

“I post my job and no one that I am interested in applies. People don’t respond to me on LinkedIn.”

DecisionDesk, a Lakewood based start-up, was one of those companies originally contemplating growing their now CLE based tech hub in New York. But despite the obvious challenges of finding experienced Python and Ruby talent for their Cleveland office, they have been successful – and a big part of their success is their story and their approach.

Solutions

So, what do companies like DecisionDesk do that enable them to secure top tech talent? What are some of the things you can consider in combating the challenge?

1.  Have a good story to tell. Highlight the things that motivate engineers to consider joining your team.

2. Hire for fit, teach the tech. We have established that culture fit matters. So look for fit, which alone can be hard enough, then consider incorporating these ideas into your talent strategy:

♦ Form relationships and invest in colleges and universities. Hire young, hungry grads, retain existing talent in Cleveland, and teach them your way and your tech. Internships and co-ops are a great way to do this and in the meantime you get to groom a great employee.

♦ Partner with a code school. Anthony Hughes, CEO of Cleveland’s new Tech Elevator suggests “Widen your perspective – coding bootcamps like ours are changing the game. We identify high aptitude, ambitious individuals who have the desire to enter into programming roles and put them through an immersive training program to produce code-ready developers. If they’re great employees for Hyland and Progressive, chances are they’ll make great members of your team too. Even better, take someone from within your business and invest in their training, you’ll get a developer who gets your business and your culture.” This highly selective 14-week program has the goal of graduating 1500 full stack code ready junior developers by 2020. Their program also includes career and personal coaching to assist in producing well-rounded graduates.

♦ Hire for experience in another tech stack: Hire experienced candidates who have worked with technologies that are relevant to yours, and who also show a willingness and interest in learning your technology, as well and the propensity to learn it quickly.

Consider this data:

If you run a search on LinkedIn for a Developer within 25 miles of downtown Cleveland, with Ruby experience, you will get a group of possible candidates.

If you run the same search and include those with Ruby or Python experience, the potential candidate set more than doubles.

Do it again and add in Java and .net, and the results are more than 10 times the original Ruby set.

The conclusion: When you consider narrowing an already small pool by a specific technology, and require a strong cultural fit (appropriately so), it could literally be a game you will never win. So train a smart person, or . . . I don’t know . . . go mad?

3.  Be flexible. There are multiple ways to fill a need. Considering non-traditional hires like moonlighters or allowing for remote work can offer another pool of talent to help augment your team.

Also, consider the approach DecisionDesk CEO John Knific is taking.

“Since there are fewer companies developing new SaaS products from scratch here in Cleveland, there isn’t an ebb and flow of individuals who have the experience being part of a products team. So you have to get creative and not get into a cycle where every hire feels like the impossible find, or the ‘unicorn’ hire. Some of this takes adopting a strategy where you use known technologies that are more available in your circle, and focus innovation (the cutting edge stuff) where it’s essential.”

4.  Have a dedicated resource that focuses on finding talent. Tech hiring managers are often trying to lead a team in addition to simultaneously shipping code themselves. Given the number of hours it can take to get a good developer to even return your call, you can easily see how hiring can become a distraction. Once you reach a certain size, hiring and keeping up with the day-to-day can become a tough balance.

Obviously, there isn’t a quick and easy fix, or we’d all be doing it already! That said, don’t lose faith…By taking a proactive, multi-layered approach, this challenge can and IS being met. Think long term, get creative, and embrace flexibility when appropriate.