Skills shortage is probably one of the most discussed topics in the media and in German companies. The situation in certain branches is continually becoming more acute, and over the past few years, we have been seeing a worrying trend.

Qualified staff are desperately being sought out, particularly in the IT sector. Due to the rapid digitalization of many business divisions, new job profiles, and therefore new job opportunities, have appeared. Yet to fill these positions, decision makers need to rethink their approach and consider new alternatives in recruiting and education.

Especially lateral entrants and career changers present an attractive solution for the “dried up recruitment market.” Yet many companies shy away from taking this step, since it allegedly involves too much time and cost. Wrongly so! Because a wider applicant pool and diversity in the company have a number of advantages. However, to properly assess this, let’s first take a look at the current situation on the employment market.

Growing demand for new talent

Studies demonstrate how dramatic the situation is, above all in the IT sector. According to a Bitkom study from 2018, the number of vacant positions was around 82,000. IT specialists such as software developers, project managers or security experts were most in demand. In 2017, this figure had “still” been at 55,000 open and unfillable positions. A factor which emphasizes the growing urgency for action is the fact that, on average, available IT positions stay vacant for five months. In most cases, companies do not have that much time, and it can even have a damaging impact on business. To minimize this time window and establish themselves on the tight labor market, companies outbid themselves with benefits and high salaries. Especially small and medium-sized enterprises reach their limits in the process and need to find new ways to attract employees and applicants. This is because the “overfishing” which now prevails in IT requires a modern HR process and open mindset of human resources staff. Currently, digitalization and the resulting staff situation are viewed by many companies as insurmountable challenges. Yet they also offer many opportunities. It is important for companies to implement the right strategies and to allow space for innovative approaches in the company culture.

New job profiles — new opportunities

Market potential is growing exponentially in certain sectors thanks to digitalization, opening new doors for companies of various sizes. In order to make the most of the possibilities these new technologies offer, a multitude of new jobs with the appropriate expertise has been created, such as Java developers or IT consultants. These positions are directed not only at IT experts, but at a wider applicant pool. IT consultants advise their clients on the implementation, adaptation and continued development of information technology systems. Among the important qualities they should possess are good communications skills, a high degree of personal initiative and a good overall view of project management. Similar skills, and especially social skills, are also required of software developers; the image of a programming job without interpersonal communication has long since become obsolete. Even lateral entrants with the right training in object-oriented programming or web and software programming can start in junior positions. These job profiles show that the IT sector is opening up to new applicants with a variety of professional and personal backgrounds. Applicants with little IT knowledge in particular receive the opportunity to enter the sector and continuously build and expand their skills.

Continuing education in turbo mode

A decisive factor in the success of lateral entrants with little or even no IT knowledge is education and training. A common misconception is that entry into an IT career can only be accomplished by completing a degree in IT. Studies in IT appear to be the obvious solution for many people interested in IT, yet for many lateral entrants and potential career changers it is often not an option due to the extensive time commitment spanning several years. A variety of training formats have been established as a supplement but not a substitute for IT studies. In addition to classic adult education courses (VHS) and special training offers by private institutions, so-called Accelerated Learning Programs have been established in the IT sector over the past few years. They originated in the US, where they had been coined by Dave Meier and the Center of Accelerated Learning. The special thing about the programs is that in a very short time frame, usually within ten to twelve weeks, they convey complex content and are firmly anchored in each participant’s memory. A well-known format of Accelerated Learning Programs are so-called boot camps in the USA. Yet there are a few specific companies in Europe and Germany which offer this training approach.

The courses differ from classic studies in that they are very practice-oriented and place focus on knowledge which is needed in day-to-day practice. IT studies spanning several years convey lots of theory which has no application later on the job. Accelerated Learning Programs have greater relevance to reality during the daily routine. In addition, participants of select programs obtain a job guarantee, which further minimizes the risk associated with a lateral entry or a career change. To be able to deliver this job guarantee, boot camps and Accelerated Learning offers place value on training based on practical experience with short theory phases and a total of around 500 hours of programming practice – a scope comparable to a Bachelor’s program in information technology. In certain programs, participants thus receive 500 hours of programming practice, comparable to regular IT studies.

Yet another important factor in Accelerated Learning Programs is the open feedback culture encouraged by the teacher. Teamwork is a top priority in the programs. In small teams, participants exchange views and through their successes and failures, they obtain direct feedback on their knowledge level. Accelerated Learning Program trainers additionally make sure that participants continually receive feedback on their performance and have a point of contact available for their questions at any time. The training formats also provide IT experts with new opportunities to make a lateral entry – namely in teaching. Most of the trainers in Accelerated Learning Programs come from the field and share the knowledge that they have acquired over many years with the participants. In this regard, they are clearly different from the majority of lecturers and professors at universities with their usual career paths who focus on the areas of theory and research and have seldom gained experience in commerce. They therefore act as mentors and can truly convey to the program participants what the job looks like in practice and what skills are in demand.

A particular task of the trainer is to make sure that all participants, regardless of their prior technical knowledge, have learning achievements and go through the prescribed curriculum successfully. To guarantee this, a modern selection process which assesses the “proper” selection criteria is indispensable. To evaluate qualifications such as logical and analytical thinking, motivation, flexibility, team orientation, resilience and a solution-oriented approach, a multi-stage selection process, consisting of a variety of tests and numerous discussions, presents a proper solution. This is because only people who bring the right “mindset” will be able to keep up with the pace of the program. The advantage of this type of recruiting is that lateral entrants receive a chance to prove themselves and win over recruiters with their soft skills.

Rethink traditional processes

This approach should also serve as a model when recruiting for open positions. Much too often though, decision-makers and HR managers rely on traditional processes. So, according to a study published last year, for most HR specialists, a classic CV is still one of the most important documents when it comes to selecting applicants. This is a misconception though if you consider that a CV mainly focuses on hard skills and prior knowledge or professional experience. From this angle, lateral entrants fail and never get the chance to prove themselves. New, modern and in part anonymous HR processes are the solution here to create a wider and more diverse applicant pool. Yet to implement the processes precisely and establish them in daily activity, a rethink in departments and the entire company is needed. Because all too often, lateral entrants are confronted with unjust and unverifiable bias. The result: They need to try harder to prove themselves and are scrutinized more thoroughly. There are several reasons for this attitude towards lateral entrants. So, one of the biggest hurdles applicants face is to win over HR specialists and decision-makers. This is because people who make decisions in HR have often gone through a long educational process themselves and are very critical of lateral entrants. This shows that appropriate communication within companies is a crucial element in making the debut of lateral entrants easier. Therefore, the fact that a new employee is a lateral entrant should not be emphasized at all, but rather the advantages and added value for the company should be the focus.

Always one step ahead with lateral entrants

And the advantages of lateral entrants are numerous. Lateral entrants bring an impartial and new perspective with them, which has a positive effect on problem solving. They look outside of the box and offer true added value to any company thanks to their experience from other areas. As a result, they act in an efficient and solution-oriented manner. Given their courage and motivation to keep learning something new, lateral entrants can serve as an example for other colleagues who may learn to share their qualities. Lateral entrants want and need to prove themselves and are determined to keep on developing their skills. These qualities show that lateral entrants do not have to hide, but rather they should use these strengths accordingly. And companies should not turn a blind eye, but take advantage of the benefits mentioned instead.

Converting bias to benefit is something the IT sector and lateral entrants need to do together. The IT scene itself is also grappling with its share of bias. It needs to be eliminated in order to master digitalization in any industry with the required human resources. Outdated prejudices include statements such as “IT is a male domain,” “only nerds sitting in the basement work there,” or “there are only jobs in the sector for IT experts anyway; you’ve got no chance without years of experience.” It’s all untrue! The perception needs to change, as the reality is very different. The IT sector is for everybody, no matter your gender, origin, education level or age. This means that both parties, the company as well as the applicant, must give each other a chance. Openness is required from both the employer and the employee.

Recognize potential and use it

The potential for lateral entrants is enormous. In time of skills shortages, new job opportunities have appeared for them and the IT boom will continue on in the future. A factor which often cuts lateral entrants off is the decision-makers in the company, even though the situation on the labor market is becoming more and more critical and in certain cases can even jeopardize the business. The IT industry offers the opportunity to provide jobs for experts as well as for applicants with little previous IT knowledge. Applicants should be aware of the position they are seeking and need to confidently enter the recruitment process. Decision-makers and HR specialists need to rethink their selection processes and their perspective. This is because in a sector like IT, which is constantly developing and is influenced by new technologies, job changes within the sector are as common as lateral entries. And these applicants with IT experience will be quickly offered a new job, even if it’s in a different area. Therefore, you cannot avoid giving lateral entrants and job changers a chance, and make the IT sector even more versatile. A fact which unfortunately has yet to become widely accepted.


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