It’s never been more challenging to recruit IT talent. Unemployment is at its lowest levels since 1975, and tech skills are the highest in demand. Plus, as more and more large employers move North, everyone is feeling the squeeze.
As technology recruiters, we’ve seen this first-hand, and know how important it is for our clients to attract the next generation rising through the ranks.
But Generation Z comes with its own considerations. Many businesses say their story and culture are unique, but what does this mean for their people? Backing these claims up with firm foundations has become critical to attracting, engaging and hiring young talent.
A handful of companies are leading the way in this regard, either in terms of how they recruit or how they pave the way for other businesses to get ‘Gen-Z-ready’. So we invited them to share their experiences over drinks and Domino’s at our latest Trusted Tech Talk.
Follow the Leaders
We wanted to hear from a variety of businesses that have made real headway with understanding and engaging Generation Z. From blue-chip organisations to tech startups disrupting recruitment, we welcomed some fantastic speakers to our Eagle Labs HQ on Wednesday:
• Andy Lord and Stuart Kirby - Code Nation
• Arlene Bulfin - UKFast
• Sam Vickerman - Doris IT
• Nickola O’Connor - PwC
• Safe Hammad - Arctic Shores
Our Founder, Steven, kicked off by thanking everyone for coming and, after a few computer glitches (you don’t have to be great at tech to recruit tech, right?) greeted the first speaker to the stage…
Code Nation - Andy and Stuart
The North West has no shortage of coding schools. But Code Nation has a unique model - one that’s earned them an impressive 98% employment rate. An approved apprenticeship provider, they don’t charge recruitment fees: they give graduates to employers as they believe it’s the right thing to do. So, we felt their insights were a great place to start...
Stuart began by talking about the curriculum they’ve designed at Code Nation - one that’s built very much around the Netflix nature of the Generation Z lifestyle. He recognised that traditional education followed the one-size-fits-all “BBC One life” and wanted to create something that intuitively matched the traits of the generation coming through the ranks.
Generation Z experience everything on demand. They focus on what they want, and expect things to be tailored to their preferences. Equally, they’re driven by community and fulfilment - not necessarily changing the world, but changing everyone’s world little by little.
Code Nation’s 12-week course reflects this. There’s no arbitrary blocks of learning: the curriculum is continuous and fluid across the three months. While everyone learns the core principles of coding and the different languages, projects are shaped around what people discover they’re passionate about. After all, they will be applying for jobs on this basis.
Yet everyone has to turn up. It’s a hardcore programme that requires hard work. Taking lessons from the agency model, Code Nation aim to give learners a flavour of what life will be like in the working world. So it’s no wonder they have a 98% employment rate…
UKFast - Arlene
Next, we heard the story of UKFast. Having grown from husband and wife team to tech giant, the business quickly realised it was heading for a skills shortage. So they set up an apprenticeship programme to identify, engage, select and train upcoming talent.
Arlene took us through the journey of the programme, one that started with just four apprentices and now feeds a significant portion of the workforce: 15% of the business is now made up of former or current apprentices. Delivered and assessed in-house, the programme has an impressive 96% completion rate. In fact, UKFast is now a government-registered training provider, meaning they also supply other businesses with their apprentices.
But this success didn’t come without its challenges. Arlene acknowledged that it’s taken time to refine the model, which involved identifying what apprentices want and how they learn best.
Generation Z process things quickly. They’re always on. They want to access everything. Most of all, they want variety. UKFast built an e-learning platform to facilitate the two-year curriculum, allowing apprentices to do one classroom day a week, and spend the rest of their time on the technical floor working organically across teams and projects to find their passion.
The most successful apprentices are those UKFast have engaged with at some point along their educational journey - career fairs, work experience, community activities, educational outreach... Work experience in particular has proven invaluable.
“Really you get to try before you buy! It’s scary at first to let them loose on the floor, but they’re hungry, have high expectations and it’s important that you leave them to it. Try to make the environment as safe as possible, but mistakes are the only way people learn.”
Arlene also stressed the importance of making apprentices feel just as important in the business as anyone else. For this reason, UKFast pay double the national minimum wage, and invest in giving young people lots of opportunities to push themselves and get involved.
The value of this approach is proven. UKFast’s oldest apprentices are now qualifying as assessors, trainers and mentors. They’re the people driving the programme forward.
Doris IT - Sam
Stereotypes are rife in both technology and recruitment. Doris IT challenged the stereotype of the old grey IT world when it was first established, and now the company doing the same for recruitment. How? By getting under the skin of who Generation Z really are...
“I hate being put in a box” said Sam as she took to the stage. Yet she acknowledged that in order to challenge a stereotype you need to acknowledge it. Lots of bright and capable young people
miss out because they don’t have experience. Doris IT give them development and mentorship, while giving customers access to affordable tech skills in the process.
Having put over 150+ people through the programme, 11% of their workforce is now Gen Z, a percentage that’s only going to creep higher. In this time, they’ve been able to identify top ‘Dorisers’, and have used these attributes to attract, engage and recruit future talent.
Generation Z care about money, but they care about a lot of other things too: mental health, purpose, support, community, a culture that listens.... Doris IT recognise the importance of face-to-face communication, and creating an environment for instant feedback.
“Loyalty comes from giving them an open platform to help shape what we’re doing and get what they want.”
Sam also talked about the value of ‘reverse mentoring’ to their business. They recently invited senior execs from top customers to an event that demonstrated this in action. Young employees took to the stage and shared insights into things they feel passionate about. She ended her talk with a video showing us the highlights and left us on this note:
“Be brave! Give them the stage!” PwC - Nicky
Following a break for pizza and beers, we returned to the auditorium to learn how one of the Big Four have built a Tech Degree Apprenticeship as part of their strategy for attracting Generation Z to work for PwC.
Nicky began by explaining the challenges of transforming what was historically known as an accounting firm into a practice with a strong tech focus. Part of this has involved creating a strong pipeline to identify, recruit and retain technologists coming through the ranks.
“We’re fishing in a pond that’s getting smaller and smaller...”
PwC have a tried-and-tested model for the accounting business, so they decided to take these learnings and apply them to their technology business. They took advantage of Apprenticeship Levy and created a fully-funded, four-year programme in collaboration with several universities designed to attract a diverse pool of future tech talent to the business.
For ambitious students, it’s a no-brainer. They have no fees to pay, a blended learning experience (university with two summer placements and a year in industry), a paid salary from day one, and a guaranteed graduate career at the end.
As a result, the programme has already seen big ticket wins since its launch in September, with almost double the number of females vs the national average for Computer Sciences. 23% of the programme come from BAME backgrounds, and a further 5% from university ‘widening access’ programmes. But it’s not a walk in the park. Every year counts, and students have to adjust to professional life alongside academic life. It’s not for everyone, but those who do follow the programme get a taster of different teams so they can begin to specialise and build relationships ahead of joining PwC full time. Ultimately, this also encourages them to stay on as a graduate. They embed PwC behaviours early, and feel greater loyalty to the firm long-term. A support model minimises drop-outs along the way.
“For us, it’s very much about security of supply. We can go on campus and sell the PwC culture, but there’s nothing like living and breathing it.”