How many times have we seen someone fired after years of service because they didn’t have the experience or skills to grow into a role that the growth of the company required?
How many times have we seen a colleague leave because their role went from a generalist to a specialist and they weren't qualified?
How many more times does this have to happen before the tech industry actually pays attention and learns from what they are doing wrong?
Maybe the last question shouldn’t end in a question mark because it is a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is too many times.
This blog is how tech industry’s own behaviors are the reasons for its inability to hire qualified people without paying exorbitant salaries.
In the last year I have noticed salary increases for software engineers by as much as 30% in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area. The data suggests somewhere closer to 10% but I know through recruiting that friends, clients, and businesses are increasing their offers by much more than that. And for leadership roles those numbers are even higher. Even if it was 10%, just as a comparison, the average U.S. salary increase in 2013 was 2.8% and expected to be 2.9% in 2014, according to Mercer. So the question is, why?
Banks do it. Universities do it. Hospitals do it. Governments do it. Manufacturers do it. Even families do it. But for some reason, the tech industry expects others to do it and that’s why there are so few people to fill their roles and why salaries are increasing well above the national average. In one word, TRAINING.
The tech industry doesn’t train, they just try to hire their way out of the problem and in an industry where demand is only growing, and not just locally, if you aren’t training your people for tomorrow, then who is?
All of us have heard software companies, when describing their cultures, use phrases like “We’re like family” or “We're a company of people with passion and commitment” or “We do things differently”.
But we've also had friends and colleagues let go because of “growth” or “change in demands of the role” or “role went from a generalist to a specialist”.
And what is the tech industry's answer? "It’s just business."
But it's not just business, it's your culture and when you act like this, your beloved company culture is gone.
The tech industry is notorious for not training people. People are hired and they may, if they are lucky, have a day or two of shadowing. They may have a few minutes with HR to go over benefits. They may have a few white pages on how to talk with customers, but frankly, that’s it. It is strictly an on-the-job-training and it is painful for the person to fit into their role and succeed early on.
Another issue we have is great performers are put into leadership roles as a reward but are not qualified to manage or lead, and worse, are not trained to manage or lead effectively. Going from being a doer to helping others be doers is a complete shift and most don’t easily succeed in that shift. And when an unqualified leader is put in place, it is painful for the team, as well.
Also, there are no true mentorship programs to help guide those in growing companies know where they should be focusing their energies on how to remain relevant as their company grows and their role changes.
And the tech industry can’t H1B their way out of this and they need to stop expecting others to solve the problem of too many open roles and too few qualified people to fill them. For an industry that is renowned for their ingenuity, for some reason when it comes to this they are at the bottom of all other industries.
And as this continues, those cultures that we hold dear are destroyed and your staff not longer trusts you. And you are nothing without trust. Suddenly those people who remain will start looking at other opportunities where salaries are 10% – 30% higher than what you are paying, and suddenly, the people, the culture, the energy that made you successful are gone. And once it's gone you will never get it back.
Germany and other European countries are doing things right with their apprenticeship programs that help students out of high school to learn on-the-job-training that keeps their youth unemployment really low. We need to have this same approach to the lack of skilled labor for the tech industry.
There are tons of smart kids in the U.S. who would love the opportunity to learn a skill that can get them on a long-term career path that pays well. This year the unemployment rate for our youth was over 15% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And I'm sure those working at McDonald's and other service related companies would be thrilled to join an apprenticeship program at a top notch tech company, instead.
There is a belief, in the tech industry, that engineers are on a two-year cycle. They get burned out working on the same product and after two years they want to work on something new. I say that’s bunk. The reason engineers leave is they are not given opportunities to grow in their field. I have hired people with two year turnover histories and seen them last, when at the right company, for more than six years. And that’s because it’s the right combination of the right product/tools, they are continuing to learn, they are given opportunities and they love the culture of the company.
This is true for all leadership roles, as well. We need to start training the people who have committed themselves to our companies, in most cases passionately, because they love the product(s) and the culture and they are the stewards of your culture! Don’t let lack of training change their commitment to your company, and ultimately change one of the best employer/employee relationships in all industries.
The tech industry is notorious in how they treat their employees and how culture is key to their success and I couldn’t agree more. I scream about the importance of culture all the time. I think everything you do needs to support your company culture. But for some reason the tech industry seems to stop short of investing time and training and they do that at the peril of their beloved culture.
There is one thing I learned while working in the tech industry. Nothing is impossible. Nothing is someone else's problem. It is our job to do this right. It is our job to do it with passion, compassion, commitment, and to do it in unique and inventive ways.
So dammit, let’s do it!