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Raring to return: could ICT professionals who’ve been out of the workforce help solve the talent shortage?

By Contributor
Thu 14 Apr 2022

Supporting rusty but willing workers to brush up on their skills can be a win-win, says Class Ltd chief technology officer, Alexis Rouch.

Is your organisation struggling to find capable people to fill high tech roles? Australia’s ICT skills shortage is a hot topic – and a headache – for local enterprises of all shapes and sizes. Historically, many have relied on skilled migrants to plug the gaps in their line-up and supply specialist skills that are hard to source at home.

The Covid-19 pandemic put paid to all that after the federal government shut the borders to international arrivals in March 2020 and kept them shut for just shy of two years.

A battle for talent ensued, with ICT vendors and businesses having to stump up significantly higher salaries to secure the personnel they needed to run or expand their operations.

As of February 2022, Australia is once again ‘open for business’, but whether the skills shortage will be alleviated quickly remains to be seen.

Casting the net wider

Late last year, our organisation, a homegrown wealth accounting solutions vendor, decided we’d try to solve the problem in a different way. We’re expanding at a healthy clip and have regular openings for high calibre developers with cloud infrastructure and fintech experience who can help us expand and optimise our suite of specialist applications.

As well as putting it out there on the professional grapevine, we teamed up with STEM Returners. It’s an innovative diversity and inclusion program that helps qualified and experienced ICT professionals to restart their careers or transfer their skills after an extended break from the workforce.

Participants are mostly, but not always, women. Typically, they’ve taken time out to have and raise families and then found getting back in again an uphill slog. A few short years can be an eternity in our fast-moving industry, and if CVs don’t feature current experience working with the tools and technologies du jour, they’re likely to be summarily rejected by box-ticking recruiters.

Back in the game

The STEM Returners solution to this challenge is simple but effective: three-month paid internships with compatible employers to enable rusty candidates to get themselves work-ready again by updating their skills and experience on the job.

And, in the case of our first returner, receive a job offer at the end of it.

In December 2021, we welcomed programmer Mae See to our Sydney office. After a five-year career break, she was low on confidence but high on positive energy and determination. Our SMSF, trust accounting, portfolio management and compliance platforms quickly became familiar ground to someone who’d spent much of her pre-parenthood career working with invoicing and accounts payable software for a bank in The Philippines.

Yes, there were cloud infrastructure, database and website technologies she needed to learn – the React user interface library, for example, wasn’t a thing in the mid-2010s – but with support from her designated mentor and colleagues from the development team, she rose to the challenge and brought herself up to speed fast.

A win-win outcome

We deemed the exercise a resounding success and were delighted when Mae See accepted a full-time position as a developer with Class.

So much so that we’ve doubled down on our participation in the STEM Returners program. Over the remainder of 2022, we plan to put a further five returners through their paces. Not all may be interested in, or suitable for, long-term roles with our organisation, but we’re hopeful that several will segue into the ranks and continue to forge rewarding careers for themselves in the ICT space.

It will be a win for both parties if so. For Class, because it’s an avenue for us to access high calibre candidates for hard to fill positions; candidates who are qualified, motivated and have demonstrated, over the course of a 12-week ‘trial’, that they’re a good cultural fit for our organisation. And for candidates, because it provides them with a pathway back in to the industry, one that’s more likely to lead to ongoing employment than further study or classroom training.

Either way, it’s an opportunity for us to pay it forward and to do our bit to tackle the national ICT skills shortage.

If your organisation is struggling to secure the talent it needs via the usual channels, perhaps it’s time for you to think outside the box too?

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