Candidates at job interview

The urgent need for diversity in tech talent pools

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The technology industry is crying out for talented individuals to join its ranks. But all too often, top tech companies are drawing from the same talent pools - and they’re missing out on recruiting diverse graduates with a range of skills and experiences as a result.

Graduates from top-ranked universities often find they’re first in line for roles at the best technology companies for a number of reasons. Top universities, such as those included in the elite Russell Group of institutions, have reputations for providing high-quality education and are perceived by many to be prestigious. Graduates may be seen to be more skilled and knowledgeable when they enter the job market, a point made clearer by the fact that many tech organisations target these universities specifically with recruitment drives.

While just getting into and completing a course at a top university does wonders for graduates in a competitive job market, they also benefit from associations with their peers. Graduates from elite universities are part of alumni networks that may include graduates hired by top tech companies who can impart their tips and offer a guiding hand, or simply recommend job opportunities they have heard about through the grapevine.

While top universities equip students with first-class knowledge and state-of-the-art research facilities, many budding school-leavers face roadblocks when applying for spaces at these institutions. Top universities are usually highly selective, and people from lower socio-economic or ethnic minority backgrounds are often underrepresented at these institutions. Indeed, in 2016 only 1.5 per cent of the University of Cambridge’s student intake was black, while at the University of Oxford, 1.2 per cent of students admitted were black, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Through outreach programmes and other measures, top universities are working to address inequalities in their student cohorts. But there is still a lot to be done to rectify this issue, and many with the intelligence and drive to attend top universities are missing out on a great education and all of the job opportunities that they could be met with afterwards.

With some tech companies still sticking to such narrow talent pools in 2023, graduates from universities perceived to be less prestigious may be overlooked. To provide some insight into the scope of the problem, Wiley Edge’s Diversity in Tech report found that 21 per cent of businesses hire graduates from top universities exclusively. Thirty-nine per cent said they are more likely to hire from those institutions, while only 28 per cent said they consider applications from all universities equally. If they haven’t started already, now is certainly the time for tech businesses to pivot on how they approach graduate recruitment. While many are clearly sticking to the top universities exclusively, others are implementing strategies to widen their recruitment horizons.

There are so many ways that tech businesses can make their workforces more diverse. Broadening recruitment channels, such as by attending a variety of job fairs and partnering with a wide range of universities can help provide introductions to talented individuals who may previously have missed out on opportunities with the hiring tech company.

Implementing blind hiring practices, where identifying information is removed from CVs and other application materials, can also help ensure the right candidates for jobs get the best possible start in the recruitment process. To improve the diversity of their workforces, some businesses are onboarding anti-bias hiring strategies, which makes the process more about the individual and less about where they went to school. Others are introducing diversity and inclusion training for staff, to improve their awareness of the roadblocks many face in securing job interviews, succeeding in them and landing a position.

Businesses are also embracing 'Hire Train Deploy' programmes, which allow them to open their doors to a pipeline of talent from different backgrounds, each with unique skills who have benefitted from bespoke training for their chosen tech career paths. Such programmes bridge the skills gap between university education and the workplace, as individuals turn up on their first day of work with specific tech training which they undertook while being paid by the training provider.

Improving diversity should be at the top of every tech business’ agenda. Whatever a company decides to do to increase the talent pools it draws from, little changes can have a seismic impact on its workforce – and the wider company as a whole.

Becs Roycroft is vice-president of global emerging talent and reskill operations at Wiley Edge.

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