Fixing the Software Talent Shortage – The Magic Bullet

ANN ARBOR – I have been involved in the software talent space for over a decade.  When I joined Ann Arbor SPARK in 2006 to develop programs to attract, develop and retain talent, software talent was the number one issue.  When I developed state-wide talent attraction programs as SVP of Talent Enhancement for MEDC from 2011-2015, employers were screaming for software talent.  Now, as a talent consultant, it is the most significant issue that my clients face.

The good news – there is an answer!  The bad news – it requires employers, especially larger employers, to step up.

Right now, there are hundreds of trained software developers looking for opportunities to start their careers in Michigan.  Through our STAR (Software Talent and Attraction) program, I have a database full of them!  However, most employers will not consider hiring them.  The majority of software development openings require 3+ years of experience in very specific languages and tools.

Employers that are willing to invest in developing software talent through training and apprentice programs, like Secure 24, tap into a talent pool that most other employers ignore.  Instead of investing in talent up front, many employers end up getting into bidding wars over “unicorns” or “purple squirrels” that have the magical number of years of experience and skills.

Of course, there are certain situations where this is the only option.   I work with many very early stage startups that don’t have the ability to train and mentor and are under pressure to create or launch a product.  And sometimes, business needs clearly dictate this approach in order to meet a key deadline.

However, most employers are fully capable to create a training program that would meet their requirements and budget.  Options include the following:

1.  Summer internship programs – If you are interested in top-tier talent from national recognized universities, this is how you get your foot in the door.  Students from our local universities need internships, and students from Rice and Stanford just to name a few are looking to work in Michigan.  (Michigan has become a talent destination!)

2. Co-op programs – Kettering, U-M Dearborn and U-Toledo have great programs where students get college credit instead of a paycheck to work for you!

3. Entry level training programs – Bring on an inexperienced developer and provide a mentor.  In fact, I even know of “master developer” that is willing to come in and provide mentoring and support so that the senior developers can continue to focus on their projects.

4. Apprentice programs – Apprenti is a best in class program from the Seattle area that is being brought to Michigan by the Workforce Intelligence Network – stay tuned for details!

What many companies don’t realize is that these options can help fill their software talent pipeline AND save them money AND reduce turnover.

Target salaries for entry level developers from regional and community colleges and other training programs are around $40-60K.  Three years later their salaries would be $50-75K, and they would be a good fit with your company culture and technologies.  This is a substantial savings from the salary that would need to pay in a bidding war, much less the 30% recruiter fee.

Some employers resist investing in training programs because they fear other employers will poach their talent.  When I developed the “Michigan Advanced Technician Training” (MAT2) based on the German model of apprentices, I visited many successful programs in Michigan and Germany and got to see the highly trained and loyal workforces that they had cultivated through their investment.  Training programs clearly improve retention, not the other way around.

Thus, I challenge all employers that have a software team greater than 5 people to invest in talent.  If this happens, we will be in a much different place three years from now than we are today.

I am proud to be working on this issue with a group of dedicated people and organizations that include the Workforce Intelligence Agency, Tech Town, Tech 248 and many others.

If you would like to get involved with the programs and initiatives coming out of this consortium – such as STAR (regular mixers of entry level talent) or apprenticeship or intern programs, please contact one of the organizations that I mentioned or email me at Amy@AmyCellTalent.com or ring me at 734-657-0370.  Together, we can solve this problem.