Finding and retaining talent is job #1 for the Indiana tech workforce, but the traditional education path is working for only a small percentage of Indiana students and employers. Indiana must fix that if it is to develop the tech workforce that companies need have in the coming years.

To succeed, we must correct generational imbalances and inequity by creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce by changing mindsets and cultures. We must overcome obstacles along the talent pathway from our youths’ earliest exposure to training and education, to hiring and onboarding, and to supporting and advancing mid-career professions. And, we must modernize talent pathways and provide new talent on-ramps for candidates from underrepresented groups. 

Despite recent efforts to increase diversity throughout the industry, tech still remains predominantly white and male. LatinX workers represent only 3 percent of the overall Indiana workforce while constituting 6 percent of the Indiana population. Black workers comprise just 7 percent of the Indiana tech workforce, while making up 10 percent of the Indiana workforce. Women currently comprise just 28 percent of the tech workforce in Indiana, while women make up 48 percent of the overall Indiana workforce. 

As with most professional fields, tech has used university degrees and credentials as the primary educational pathway and gatekeeper to jobs in tech. That has created systemic, unconscious and sometimes deliberate barriers to college enrollment, and attainment for under-represented groups have served as participation limiters for minorities in tech and tech-enabled roles.

Data from the Indiana Commission on Higher Education shows  only 11 percent of Black and LatinX students complete a college degree on time. At the same time, the tech workforce increasingly requires a higher level of training and specific technical competency. 

Indiana’s post-secondary attainment patterns mirror national trends. Over the past several decades, racial and ethnic disparities in higher education enrollment and attainment have increased, along with gaps in earnings, employment, and other related outcomes for communities of color, according to the U.S. Department of Education report on “Advancing Diversity and Inclusivity in Higher Education.

The share of the population with a high school diploma has risen over time for Hispanic, Black, White and Asian adult U.S. residents, but the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment has doubled, from 9 to 20 percent for Hispanic residents since 1974 and from 6 to 13 percent for black residents since 1964.

The report notes that “a smaller proportion of Black or Hispanic high school graduates than White graduates enroll in college, and more than 80 percent of Hispanic, Black and Asian students have a gap between their financial need and grants and scholarships, compared with 71 percent for White undergraduate students. 

Degree completion rates are lower among Black and Hispanic students than White and Asian students. Nearly half of Asian students who enrolled in postsecondary education complete a bachelor’s degree, compared with fewer than one in five Hispanic and about one in five Black students.”

Nationally, research shows that 10 out of 16 million Black workers currently active in the labor market possess relevant skills obtained through routes like military service, certificate programs and community colleges that qualify them for higher-paying jobs. Yet, when it comes to accessing well-paid, family-sustaining career opportunities in the tech sector, these high-potential candidates are left sitting on the sidelines. 

When employers requires a bachelor’s degree screen for a job, they screen out 70 percent of Black workers. In fact, nonessential degree requirements exclude two-thirds of all adults in the U.S., regardless of race, from securing a job that pays a family-sustaining wage. 

Jeff Ton, an Indianapolis-based and nationally recognized expert on technology and business leadership,  says these barriers persist through the hiring process and into minority career experiences. “We have a talent gap in tech with more jobs than people to fill them. We have to expand the funnel to bring in more diverse professionals,” he said. “This is not just a hiring problem. This is also a retaining problem. Our diverse colleagues are not staying. They are leaving because they don’t feel included, they don’t feel seen.”

Examples of how Indiana is widening the traditionally narrow pathway to tech:

  • A collaboration among the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, Ascend, EmployIndy, TechPoint, Conexus and other organizations called the Modern Youth Apprenticeship Program. This effort provides expanded opportunities for Indianapolis high school students to learn about tech careers, gain necessary skills, and follow new pathways into success following graduation.
  • The national OneTen coalition, which launched in October 2020. OneTen has a bold goal of hiring 1 million Black Americans without degrees into family-sustaining, livable-wage jobs in 10 years. OneTen encourages signatories to embrace a “Skills First” hiring philosophy for at least 50 percent of their jobs; build apprenticeship programs as a way to train this targeted talent to prepare them for the available jobs; and re-credential existing jobs to open more opportunity for the targeted community.
  • Eli Lilly and Company’s Skills First agenda, which is designed to close  socioeconomic gaps. This spring, Lilly in its second Skills First program, called Technical Pathway Program, focused specifically on IT skills enabling outcomes for various capabilities across the Information and Digital Solutions. 
  • TechPoint member Salesforce’s Talent Alliance to directly address the diversity gap. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff notes “Salesforce is committed to empowering people from every background with the skills they need to build careers and thrive in the digital economy.”

Early stage companies in the Indiana tech ecosystem also recognize the value and importance of anchoring on diversity. Darrian Mikell, co-Founder of Qualifi, says diversity is one of his company’s strategic advantages.

“Diversity is integral to who we are as a company and we truly see it as a differentiating factor to our success,” he said.

Early successes show us we can overcome our diversity challenges. Straight-forward steps like skills-first hiring is five times more predictive of a person’s future performance than their education, and two-and-a-half times more predictive than their prior experienceSkills-based hiring diversifies talent pools, accelerates the hiring process and increases the likelihood of retention.

Job descriptions that use gender-neutral language lead to 42 percent more responses and a two-week faster hiring time than those that use masculine language (e.g., assertive, dominant, competitive). Women tend to apply to jobs only when they meet 100 percent of the job requirements, while men will apply if they meet 60 percent. Similar gaps exist for candidates of color. And, workers who strongly agree that the job description was a good reflection of their job are 2.5 times more likely to be engaged as an employee.

There are many barriers to overcome to achieve our imperative of developing a workforce of 230,000 by 2030. Fortunately, Hoosier tech leaders and entrepreneurs are innovators and barrier busters. Please continue to let me know if you know of other programs we can support or promote or if you have additional ideas.