Across the nation, organizations struggle to fill key IT vacancies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the US economy will require 100,000 new IT workers per year over the next 10 years, but only 60,000 new IT employees enter the workforce annually. This gap has pushed tech companies to explore new recruitment methods, and many have turned to job shadow programs to fill their pipelines.
Introducing a job shadow program at the high school and collegiate levels can provide the boost your company needs to win over tomorrow’s tech workers. However, when managed incorrectly, job shadow programs can actually end up alienating the very talent you hope to attract. Shadowing is often the first contact future staffers have with your company, and a bad experience can discourage students from applying to work for you after graduation.
To make a better first impression, evaluate these three areas of your job shadow program:
1. Does Your Program Reflect Its Attendees?
Many industries struggle with diversity, but tech has it especially bad. Your team may look very different from the students who are participating in your job shadow program. For example, at a tech startup in a big city, a white, male lead developer may be charged with hosting a group of female students of color from a low-income school. This dissonance can make it difficult for students to see themselves in tech roles at your company.
Job shadow programs are most powerful when attendees interact with people who have similar backgrounds and experiences. If your tech team lacks diversity, find opportunities for participants to connect with employees from other areas of the business who may have more in common with them. Looking outside the tech team also helps combat notions that the only way to work in tech is in an IT-focused job.
It can prove challenging to find diverse candidates for tech roles, but diversifying your entire business first will help attract more diverse tech talent over time. Be aware that diversity doesn’t only apply to race and gender. Pursue an intersectional approach to diversity and create a job shadow program that reflects all facets of identity, such as age, sexual orientation, and more.
2. Does Your Program Offer an Honest — but Exciting — Look Into the Job?
Your job shadow program should offer a realistic taste of what it is like to work at your company. While it’s easier to host panels and plan large group events, these activities don’t have the same impact on up-and-coming talent as watching an employee do actual work.
Don’t focus on just one or two aspects of a role. It’s true that an engineering manager could spend a full afternoon managing recent invoices for consulting engagements, but a student shadowing on this day would leave with the unrealistic impression that an engineering job at your company centers on accounting responsibilities instead of technology tasks.
While you should design shadow programs with an eye on authenticity, plan to host students on exciting workdays. For instance, you could invite students to visit when you have a product design meeting or a marketing brainstorm planned. Don’t arrange an artificial day, but do make shadow visits engaging and memorable.
3. Is Your Program Structured?
Job shadowing involves young people, and that means your program must be more structured than other recruitment efforts. Not only are students often unfamiliar with what it’s like to be in a corporate office, but your employees may also have limited experience working with high schoolers. You need to have all your ducks in a row to account for these variables.
To avoid hiccups, prep your program thoroughly. Have an employee — ideally a junior-level staffer who is relatively close in age to potential participants — complete a run-through. This process can help you pinpoint lulls where you can add new activities and identify coaching opportunities for the employees program participants will shadow.
For example, software development tasks can be very sophisticated, and an employee may need to practice a step-by-step description of a technology process using layman’s terms. Rehearsal ensures the employee is ready to explain their job to someone with a less technical background.
As part of the improvement process, establish avenues for program attendees to offer feedback after visiting your company. You can learn a lot about your program if students and teachers are able to share what they liked or disliked about it. Simple strategies like a follow-up email or online survey can elicit valuable feedback and start conversations.
As you develop your job shadow program, invite your entire company to get involved. Every employee should feel invested, and proximity to the initiative helps workers feel like part of something bigger than their specific job and related responsibilities.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to organizations experienced in job shadowing. An external partner can offer advice and proven strategies to help you design a job shadow program with a high recruitment rate.
Julia Kanouse is CEO of the Illinois Technology Association.