A lack of diversity in tech has been a pervasive issue that has worsened due to the ongoing global pandemic. A recent report from Wiley and mhtree found that 68% of business leaders feel there is a lack of diversity in their tech workforce, with 51% struggling to recruit diverse entry level tech talent.

Surprisingly, the report also reveals that half of tech workers between ages 18 and 28 left or wanted to leave a tech job after feeling uncomfortable, with 68% responding they have felt that way due to their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or neurodevelopmental condition. Company cultures for employees in tech roles often fail to be inclusive and lack diversity – but why?

Successful equality efforts must focus on traditionally overlooked individuals. While U.S. companies spend $8 billion per year on diversity and inclusion trainings, the problems continue to fester. Too many companies see diversity as a box to be checked off rather than a driving force for the business. Clients, customers, and employees want diversity to be intentional, not a buzzword or bumper stickers. Skill development of the non-traditional workforce – women, people of color, veterans, first-generation college students, people from rural areas, older workers who need upskilling, and people without a college education – is a powerful, transformative approach that businesses can take to close skill gaps while providing more opportunities that lead to greater upward mobility for all people.

The disadvantages companies face when failing to offer opportunity to all people are impossible to ignore. Investing in a diverse workforce allows for more innovation with fewer echo chambers, a divergence from relying on the ideas and perspectives of those with similar life experiences. Through the application of diverse perspectives in strategizing and meeting objectives, the value of a diverse workforce is realized. The largest pool of diverse talent is the non-traditional workforce, largely made up of people who do not fit within the confines of normative society.

The nontraditional workforce is full of people who are willing to learn new skills if doing so will help them successfully transition into a new career. Whether investing in candidates without a degree or in last-mile training for those who will graduate from college, closing the skills gap is far from impossible.

Diversity in Tech is More Than a Numbers Game

It is not enough for companies to commit to hiring more people of color. That is merely a half-measure that ignores the systemic disparities that have consistently prevented marginalized communities from securing equal opportunities. Many tech companies have made big promises in the past few years about increasing diversity amongst their workforce, but most of these initiatives have fallen short because they focus chiefly on morale and fail to attenuate the underlying reasons behind why they struggle to create more diverse workforces.

Even if companies achieve their desired percentage of diversity, whether they can retain the new talent remains a lingering question. If underrepresented communities are targeted to fill roles but are not trained to complete the job correctly, employees will begin to look for a better fit. If companies do not restructure policies to better serve the diverse needs of a diverse workforce population, retention will suffer.

A recent Gartner report recommends several initiatives that will help companies retain diverse workforces:

  • Microaggressions training and reporting.
  • Diversity mentorship programs.
  • Financial and physical well-being programs.
  • Reporting diversity metrics.

While these initiatives will help retain talent once it has been secured, the most successful and inclusive companies know these strategies mean nothing without first developing a highly skilled, diverse workforce.

The Apprenticeship: A Proven Solution

While college degrees have long represented an employee’s vertical knowledge and ability to finish what they have started, ever-evolving skill sets whereby tech workers are empowered to be successful are more attainable through hands-on training by industry professionals. Apprenticeships have traditionally been associated with learning a laborious craft from an experienced co-worker; in the 21st century economy, apprenticeships help employers train workforces through combining classroom education with on-the-job training (OJT).

Apprenticeships are expanding in the U.S. through legislation like the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020, a bill that shifts focus towards democratizing access to modern apprenticeships for all people, including underrepresented groups. Reforming apprenticeships to allow for the development of tech talent will allow these positions to be filled by employees who, for any reason, cannot access traditional paths toward career advancement. Doing so will also better mind the skill gap, a win for an employers’ bottom line as it is more cost effective to build talent than to buy it. By investing and training people to feed directly into a company’s tech stack, the return on investment (ROI) is higher than constantly incurring recruiting and retention costs whenever an employee leaves.

Many university programs and traditional coding bootcamps cram as much computer science knowledge and theory as possible into the minds of students in a short amount of time without providing foundational technical and business skills that will allow for independent career development. Tech apprenticeship programs that best prepare future workforces for their careers build on the knowledge they obtained in the classroom through guidance and professional development in situational environments supervised by actual senior developers.

Opportunity for All

Creating inclusive cultures in tech and retaining a diverse workforce is more involved than just setting goals and hoping they stick. Offering opportunity to all people through training and development of nontraditional candidates is how companies can be intentional with their diversity and inclusion efforts. The tech industry is ripe with opportunity for new jobs, a trend that continues to grow more relevant every year. As companies are forced to reskill to keep up with expedited digital transformation, the opportunity to develop an entire talent pool emerges.