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Tech executives are rethinking how to hire for in-demand jobs: Survey

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Key Points
  • Hiring companies are rewriting job descriptions, implementing on-the-job training, and sourcing candidates from more diverse backgrounds to close the skills gap, according to a new CNBC Technology Executive Council survey.
  • Just under 75% of tech executives say liberal arts degree holders are being hired, and over half say they are hiring candidates without a college degree.
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For years, companies have struggled to fill demand for skilled jobs in technology, with eligible workers in short supply. The skills gap remains a significant challenge, but according to a new CNBC survey of technology executives, new approaches to recruiting talent and retraining existing employees are becoming more widespread and helping to close the gap. 

A year ago, slightly over half of respondents to the CNBC Technology Executive Council quarterly survey said it had become harder to find qualified job candidates. In the Q1 2021 survey, which included responses from 33 of the 85 members and was conducted between March 5 and March 18, that dropped to 30%, as more companies say it has become easier to fill skilled tech positions. This does not mean the skills gap is disappearing. In fact, the survey finds 44% of respondents saying that finding qualified employees remains their biggest risk, and about half say the task remains as difficult as it was a year ago.

Tech jobs can be difficult to source given that software developers and cybersecurity professionals typically require hefty training and certifications. 

"It's more of a demand issue," said Gad Levanon, vice president of labor markets at The Conference Board.  "Demand is expanding so rapidly they just don't have enough people to meet that." 

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Tech execs say it's easier to find talent for open positions, new survey shows

Cyberattacks and the shift to an online world — a trend accelerated by Covid-19 — means that the need to hire for these roles, in addition to IT support and data analytics, is skyrocketing, but demand far outweighs supply, says Ramona Schindelheim, editor-in-chief at WorkingNation, a nonprofit focused on labor force issues like retraining workers for a changing economy. 

According to the recent 2020 Workforce Study from ISC2, the gap between desired positions and those employed in the the cybersecurity field decreased from 2019, but an additional 3.1 million workers are still needed to close the skills gap.

"We've moved so much online that there's vulnerabilities that exist that you need people to take care of whether you're a small business or a large business," Schindelheim said.

Covid has upended many workers' lives, with many Americans holding off their job searches because of childcare shortages and fear of infection, Levanon said. While remote work is a solution for some, many tech jobs that still require coming into a physical office tend to be concentrated in specific geographic and metro areas. 

Evolving tech job qualifications

Employers have begun broadening the qualifications to fill open technology positions, with candidates no longer needing a four-year degree, Schindelheim said.

That change is reflected in the CNBC survey, with over half (52%) of technology executives saying they've hired workers without a college degree. Seventy-two percent of respondents to the CNBC survey said they are hiring internal candidates from non-technology teams; another 72% said they are finding candidates with degrees in liberal arts.

Over the last decade, tech giants from Google to IBM have begun offering online professional certification courses on topics like IT support, data analytics and cloud computing. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Udacity, which partner with global companies, professionals and universities, have also emerged offering certification in these subjects. 

In trying to address the skills gap, a majority of technology executives tell CNBC their firms have built flexible on-the-job training opportunities, while 39% said they are creating apprenticeship programs. Several companies also said they have hired candidates with autism spectrum disorder.

Many have also rewritten job descriptions or job titles, according to the CNBC TEC survey, a trend which amid the shift to remote work has become more common on job listing sites like Monster, says Claire Barnes, the company's chief human capital officer. Some employers are listing job opportunities with multiple locations or as work from home opportunities to attract people from a range of geographic locations. 

Multiple respondents to the CNBC TEC survey said they increased remote hiring and/or eased location restrictions.

One of the top search requests on Monster over the past year is remote work and employees are looking more closely at wellness, benefits and long-term work from home options, which companies are increasingly highlighting in job descriptions.

"Companies are really aware that the pandemic has an affect on employees in their whole life, not just in their working life," Barnes says. "How your employer is looking after you affects your family."

Strong technology skills are a common asset among younger workers, but new challenges are being presented in the remote work shift: many lack the soft skills necessary for teamwork, such as the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate, Barnes says. Many workers joining companies during Covid-19 are struggling to assess and understand the culture of an organization from afar.