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Companies are getting creative to recruit–as early as middle school

When it comes to finding great workers, some organizations are taking unconventional approaches.

Companies are getting creative to recruit–as early as middle school

It’s no secret that, collectively, organizational leadership is worried about finding the right people. Attracting and hiring the right talent is the No. 1 internal concern among corporate leaders, according to a January 2019 survey released by The Conference Board. A lack of talent stunts innovation and growth.

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So some companies are starting early to fill the talent gap, creating programs that not only target college students, but also high school and even middle school students. The goal is to build relationships early in the hope that these relationships will result in a long-term pipeline of prospective employees. Here are some creative ways organizations are reaching out to the next generations of workers.

Make work fun

Hyland Software is one company that starts early in developing the next generation of employees. Members of the software development team thought it would be fun to host a “camp” for middle and high school students interested in software development and technology, says Caitlin Nowlin, Hyland’s technical outreach programs manager.

The feedback from the first few camps in 2014 was so positive that the company launched weekly Hy-Tech Clubs for students in grades 9 through 12 who wanted to learn to code. Hy-Tech Camps introduce students to a wide range of technology topics. From 2014 to 2018, the Hy-Tech camps grew more than 900% from 18 students participating in 2014 to 182 in 2018. The Hyland Hackathon program grew 93% from 55 students competing in 2015 to 106 in 2019. The company has also created a weekend Hackathon, which teaches new skills to high school and college students, and a team competition that challenges students to use technology to solve a real-world problem.

The first cohorts of campers are now in college, and Hyland is beginning to see many of its campers apply for internships with the company, Nowlin says. “There’s that loyalty there to come work for Hyland instead of going to move to the West Coast, Silicon Valley. They want to stay and work in Cleveland for Hyland,” she adds.

Give them a glimpse

As head of Illinois Technology Association (ITA), CEO Julia Kanouse worries about the shortage of technology workers entering the labor force. As part of the effort to foster interest in STEM jobs, especially among young women, last year ITA began hosting a citywide shadow day at member organizations with Chicago Public Schools. High school students visit area technology companies and learn about a wide range of jobs instead of just shadowing one person and learning a little about one aspect of STEM opportunities. But Kanouse says her goal is to reach out to students as young as 10 years old to get them interested in STEM education.

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Last week, we hosted our second annual City-Wide Shadow Day in commemoration of #internationalwomensday. One hundred young women from 14 area high-schools came together with 20 Chicago tech companies for a day of learning and inspiration about STEM-based careers. City-Wide Shadow Day provides an opportunity for these young women to gain hands-on experience and witness “a day in the life” of experienced professionals. One of the goals of Shadow Day, aside from mentorship and hands-on experience, was for the young women to gain insight into the variety of careers available at technology companies – marketing, design, engineering, product management, customer support and many others. Through programs like Shadow Day, ITA is focused on enabling and supporting getting more women into technology through mentorship, education and STEM. Swipe through to see some of our favorite highlights from the event! Thank you to @avionos_llc, Backstop Solutions, @cdwcareers, @centro_inc, @insideenova, HighGround, @realhomechef, @imctrading, @jellyvisionlab, @microsoft, @morningstar, @narrativesci, @onenorth, @relativity.hq, ShopperTrak, @solsticegrams, @trading_tech, @transunion, @trunkclub, and @vibesmobile for participating in this lovely event! An extra special thank you to the following school for send their female students to attend this year's Shadow Day! We hope to see you again next year! Thanks again! @chitechacademy, Chicago Vocational, @collinsacademyhs, @corlissstemhs, @curiemetrohs, @delasalleinstitute, Kennedy High School, @lake_viewhs, @matherhsofficial, @mclarkeagles, @ogdenchicago, Social Justice High School, @westinghousegwcp, and @vonsteubenmsc!

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“Around age 10, 75% of girls show interest in STEM, and by age 14, it drops to 11%,” Kanouse says. “So it’s really critical to capture them even younger. But in terms of actually understanding and seeing what a career looks like, in that space, I think high school’s a really great time to start to do that,” she says.

Create an app

For high school students studying to work in trade, technical, and skilled service careers, finding a job beyond the local network can be challenging. “There’s no real way for them to connect with the workforce outside of the traditional channels, which is, your dad’s in construction, go and talk to his buddies. You work on a job on the weekend. You get into the union because your uncle went there. It’s very old school,” says David Broomhead, CEO and founder of TradeHounds, a new entrant to the mobile app marketplace that allows tradespeople to connect with jobs all over the country.

TradeHounds recently partnered with SkillsUSA Massachusetts, a state association of SkillsUSA, which serves more than 395,000 trade school students. The goal is to help these students find work anywhere in the country, as well as network, showcase their work, and discuss career options. It’s early, but the app had more than 50,000 users within a few months of launch, Broomhead says. And it opens up a new world of opportunities for young tradespeople. “It’s like going from fishing in a pond to fishing in the ocean,” he says.

Look beyond the obvious

As other technology companies compete for graduates in technology fields, Infosys is taking a different track: Hiring students with liberal arts and other majors and reskilling them. President and COO Ravi Kumar calls the re-skilling process “finishing school,” which teaches students the digital skills the company needs. And it opens a new world of job opportunities to students who have not majored in STEM fields.

The idea is that the focus on big data has created the need for broader thinking. The humanities teach people how to learn and think critically, prioritizing data and providing context to clarify its meaning. The company is now working with various schools, such as Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Purdue University, Community College of Rhode Island, and others, to train students with backgrounds in design, liberal arts, and other areas to fill key roles the company needs.

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So far, Infosys has hired more than 8,000 of the candidates who have participated in the finishing school curriculum, with the goal of hiring more than 10,000. The varied viewpoints, skills, and knowledge that the program brings to the company is a key strength, Kumar says. “That made this whole initiative much more compelling because it had the cognitive diversity needed in a [digital world],” he says.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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