Jun 1, 2022

With the boom of IT sector, learn and earn after 12th

The good thing about being young is that you are not experienced enough to know that you can’t possibly do the things you are doing” opined a wise person. I heard similar sentiments from the manager of a leading IT company who now supervised a new cadre of young employees who began their IT careers right after high school. This manager was ecstatic and animatedly talked about the energy, enthusiasm and spirit to learn that was brought to the workplace by these still in their teens young IT pros, and how with no prior mental baggage, they approached every task and problem with greater optimism and ingenuity than many employees from the traditional cadre.

Obviously, for the IT Company with which the said manager works, a new non-traditional talent stream of high school grads is emerging and can potentially provide the company with a distinct edge in the talent wars that are being fiercely fought between tech firms during the current decade, a decade which NASSCOM now prefers to call as a “Techade”.

However, before we conclude high school graduates as a new talent gold that could be mined by the tech firms, let me try and answer the following 3 questions:

Q1. Does a pressing need exists for tech firms to consider non-traditional talent streams?

Q2. Can high school graduates emerge as a reliable and enduring new talent stream?

Q3.What is the potential employment model that can attract, develop and retain talented high school graduates in the tech industry?

Let me take the above questions one by one below:

Does a real and pressing need exist for tech firms to consider non-traditional talent streams?

I find the following three catalysts that should make a compelling case for the tech industry to soon begin tapping the non-traditional talent streams:

Serious talent gap forecast in digital tech skills: Let me begin by reiterating the often repeated but serious statistics about talent crunch faced by the Indian tech industry. As per now a more recent NASSCOM report called the Draup-Nasscom India Talent story, the talent gap in new age digital skills in India will increase from 5 Lac in 2021 to 18 Lacs in FY’26. These digital tech skills mainly comprise of areas like web & mobile development, Cloud computing, AI and Big Data Analytics, IoT, Cybersecurity, RPA, AR/VR etc.

Not enough graduating with required new age tech skills: As per the same NASSCOM report, in FY’21 despite having 2.1 Million graduates from STEM domains, only 10K-15K Indian graduates in FY’21 had studied AI & ML, 7.5-10K studied Cloud Computing and only 2k-3.5K studied Cybersecurity in their college curriculum. This indicates that most higher education institutions in India did not offer programmes and curriculum aligned with pressing talent needs of the tech industry.

Reskilling is an answer but not a complete one: Indian tech industry has catapulted its investments in reskilling and it is estimated as per some reports that 65%-70% of the digital talent gained in India during FY’21 was through reskilling. However, despite such praise worthy progress, one must keep in mind that core tech talent base available and trainable for reskilling might shrink. The demand for digital tech talent is reportedly growing 5X faster than core tech talent and will be much larger to be adequately met through reskilling efforts alone by tech firms.

Can high school graduates emerge as a reliable and enduring new talent stream?

Well, I think there is a tremendous promise and potential in high schools graduates to emerge as a robust talent pool for the tech industry due to the following three reasons:

Digital natives have a greater natural acumen to learn skills for digital tech jobs: The Gen Z now graduating from high schools are the true digital natives. Born in the 21st century, they are more home with digital technologies of 21st century than any of the previous generations. They take to new technology as Fish to water. While evidence of Gen Z being power users of new tech are fairly ubiquitous, one can often see these power users also active in creation of new apps and putting new technologies to imaginative new purposes. We are living in the times where in India an 8 year old created an app to aid dyslexic kids, a 9-year-old created an app to reduce bullying and a 16 year created an app to lighten the school bags. With coding now also being learnt at a much younger age, the potential of finding acumen that can be transformed into productive tech talent has gone up immensely for the tech firms.

Many tech jobs can be performed with skills that can be learnt during and after high school: While more prevalent in the developed countries, there is ample evidence of people successfully performing technology job roles with high school credentials only. They are able to do so by rapidly acquiring the essentials skills required for some tech job roles. In India also there is a growing evidence where a few visionary IT companies have begun on-boarding high school graduates into their innovative talent transformation ecosystems and are successfully transitioning them into productive full time employees. There is also proof emerging that such models would endure. For instance a leading cloud solutions software company has been operating successfully with a unique training & employment model with high school graduates now for over a decade.

Employer Value Proposition (EVP) of tech firms may trump Education Value Proposition delivered by many higher education institutions in the country: Let me clarify that one can’t deny the life transformation impact of quality higher education and the fact that its value cannot be compared with what one employer can offer. However, there is also a question about how many students in India are offered such a transformative higher education experience. A large number of even bright students are unable to find seats in institutions reputed for their quality curriculum, faculty and stimulating education environment. India has over 3 Crores students enrolled into Undergraduate (UG) programmes out of which approx. 2 crores are pursuing B.A (1 Crore), B.Sc. (47Lacs) and B.Com (42 lacs) programmes and 37.8 Lacs are pursuing Engineering programmes. As per India Skill report 2021, the employability % of these students upon graduation ranges between 30% – 40% for B.A, B.Sc. & B.Com programmes and even for engineering graduates it is not over 46%. This leaves almost 2.2 crores UG students in India at risk of unemployment or underemployment. This creates an opportunity for tech firms to create an Employer Value Proposition that can attract many bright high school graduates from the vast available pool to pursue a more assured career path with them, a path that enables them to learn & apply new skills, gain financial independence and also provides rich work experience to boost future employability & career progression.

What is the potential model that can attract, develop and retain talented high school graduates in the tech industry?

I am fortunate to have personally witnessed one of the largest and among the most admired IT company in India craft an innovative and attractive employment model for bright high school graduates. Also, my job entails interacting with technology professionals, students of tech programmes and also HR leaders of leading tech companies. In my assessment, any tech firm that wishes to successfully tap into this new talent spring, must build an employment model on the following three planks:

A Shared Long Term vision: While the high school grads over time can potentially help tech firms address the massive talent crunch and contribute to meet its business imperatives, the firms also needs to offer a compelling long term shared vision of career progression to this new employee segment. Since, the nature of work at tech firms would entail attracting only quality high school grads, it needs to convince these just out of school youngsters about the superiority of its Employer Value Proposition against the easily available but not so great higher education options. A leading IT company, I know, shows a career progression with work integrated higher education path for next 8-10 years to potential recruits contemplating between traditional higher education options and working for this reputed IT firm. Communicating a shared vision to this segment is vital for building a successful talent model with high school grads.

Embed work integrated higher education paths in collaborations with top universities: While it is important to train for job readiness, it is even more important to educate for career and life readiness. Skilling alone, however attractive it may seem in these talent starved times cannot build professionals and citizens who will provide an enduring strength to corporations and the country. Tech firms should build the model to not just find skilled workers for today but to also build a pipeline of future leaders. This would entail the firms to go beyond training and collaborate with top universities to offer transformative higher education experiences to this segment. One such collaboration between a leading IT firm and a top university led to creation of even a new innovative bachelor’s degree that offered a multi-disciplinary curriculum aimed at building future IT leaders. Today, over 1000 high school grads are pursuing this innovative bachelor’s degree while simultaneously pursuing their careers with this IT company. Such work integrated higher education paths with top universities will also meet aspirations and dreams of young high school grads to study with a top university. It will also attract them towards a more fulfilling and engaged long term employment with the tech firms.

Nurture for assimilation & mentor for growth: High school grads as full time employees would be much younger and inexperienced compared to a majority of other employees. It is important that this segment finds acceptance and are made to feel welcome in the world of work which is very different from the high school environment they knew. This requires building a nurturing ecosystem that also involves their supervisors and co-workers to ensure faster assimilation of this young workforce in the mainstream. Since this segment will need to balance full-time jobs with work-integrated higher education paths, they would also require access to mentors who will both motivate as well as guide them to achieve greater work-study-life balance.

I believe there is a strong case for tech firms to soon consider the creation of employment models targeted at high school graduates. It will not just help fill the skill gaps but will also enable them to shape the talent they need in the future. The tech firms who will do this early will likely enjoy an advantage over others and perhaps even be in a superior position to win the talent wars of the future.

If you are a business or HR leader still thinking if you should tap into this very young segment or not, then let me in conclusion just state a quote from Joseph Joubert “Ask the young, they know everything.