Organisations worldwide face a skills shortage that could quickly become a crisis. Facing the perfect personnel storm due to the pandemic, digital transformation and the so-called Great Resignation, there are more vacant IT jobs than qualified people ready and prepared for those roles. Demand is high and supply is low, which means wage inflation as companies become embroiled in a bidding war to hire and retain talent. It’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon, but only one with a brilliant solution.
UST Step IT Up takes talented individuals from minority communities, women and service veterans and trains them in skills that employers need right now. From cyber security analyst to scrum master, from python developer to project manager – Step IT Up’s intensive apprenticeship program makes a meaningful difference.
The accelerated talent development programme has already placed more than 1,000 candidates in the US, Europe, and Australia as the global footprint of this initiative expands.
Olwyn DePutron is the director of UST Step IT Up.
“My role is to make Step IT Up a success for our clients, UST and the lives that we touch,” she says. “The program trains underrepresented individuals and veterans for successful careers in specific technology roles.”
“Step IT Up is a program that knows no borders,” says DePutron. “We've done it in Europe. We've done it in Latin America, we have a flavor of it in Asia as well. Diversity is defined differently by different organisations and countries, so we consider and match our recruiting efforts depending on the client.”
So what does Step IT Up look for in a candidate? That in some ways depends on the candidate’s situation. A four-year US degree in anything is acceptable, not just relating to technology, and veterans would have their years of service considered in lieu of a Bachelor Degree.
“We do have some clients that have removed the need for a degree because they understand that hinders some of their talent pools, so some clients have looked to bring in alternative candidates or look at alternative programmes to fill their talent pipeline,” says DePutron.
Clients who have become involved with Step IT Up tend to be large organisations taken from the Fortune 500 They come from a wide range of verticals and geographies, which again highlights the need but also the recognition that this is a fantastic opportunity for Step IT Up candidates.
Even Joe Biden has given Step IT Up his seal of approval, visiting the Detroit centre when he was US Vice President, commenting “We can’t train and pray, we have to train and place”.
“The good thing about Step IT Up is it is custom focused on specific skill sets,” says DePutron. “Our clients embrace that because many of them deal with a war on talent. Not only that, but also folks are retiring and leaving the organisation, and they're losing knowledge base. We work with clients to understand what that skill set is and build into the training exactly what the person needs to be successful in that role.”
It is widely recognised that there is a shortage of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) roles, which many people see as the key to innovation and job creation. In the US, only 28% of STEM jobs are held by women. In some of the most sought-after skill sets and fastest-growing areas, that proportion is even less.
Encouraging women to look at careers in technology through initiatives like Step IT Up can help address this gender imbalance. It’s something DePutron has personal experience of too.
“I have a sister who has been in investment banking technology throughout her working career. I remember as we were growing up, no one in my family was in tech. I don't even know how she found that career within technology,” she says.
“But as she moved up in her career, she was able to connect with folks who told her more about the potential of a career in technology and Step IT Up is doing that as well.
“Yes, it's hard to get into the tech, but there are opportunities to give you the tools and the knowledge to get there.”
One way UST promotes STEM careers is to work with women in technology events and programs specifically for women – such as a bank in Atlanta that put 21 women through a specialist RPA training program.
The bank was previously outsourcing this work to an offshore company but 20 of the women graduated and were placed in their roles within 6 months to take this over.
“We had an individual that was part of the training who interviewed a year before,” recalls DePutron. “She didn't get a seat, but she heard about this again, went through the interviews, got selected, and showed her persistence. She wanted to get a technology career and she was able to get a full-time position – all this while also having a baby.”
It’s important to note here that Step IT Up pays for the education – the equivalent of a college degree – and pays the candidates throughout their training. Candidates pay nothing, and the organisations who eventually benefit also pay nothing for being provided with skilled, in-demand workers. So what does UST get out of this?
“First of all, it's a good feeling helping someone else and giving back to the community,” says DePutron. “I think that's the main reason – they have the assets and the training experience. In all honesty, they like to do it. UST likes to give back to the community and you're making a change in someone, and we all have a part to play in that change.”
DePutron is clearly proud of the work UST and the Step IT Up program achieve, and she admits she loves to see the look on students’ faces when they graduate, when that person gets a job offer from the client, that completes the circle.
“It shows that they are valued and that they can do it, and that's the happiest, proudest time for me.”