Not all bootcamps are created equal and true ‘digital upskilling’ means going a lot further
We often come across ‘digital bootcamps’ – government-funded initiatives where people are trained in a short, sharp, intense training programme. The idea is candidates can be selected, trained, then sent off to make their way in the world. They are then interviewed by companies who, if they like them and think they can do the job (plus that they have the bandwidth, capability and processes in place to nurture them), hire them as employees and put them into their teams.
Several of these bootcamps have been started across the UK – we’re proud to say we even work with a few of them – but they aren’t all set up for success. Some do not adequately prepare their attendees for the reality of entering the tech world.
What bootcamps are getting right
There are some things to love about these training programmes. First, they’re bringing people in from diverse backgrounds and trying to put them into tech roles. They’re attracting people who wouldn’t normally ever have the chance to do this – given the industry’s standard approach of hiring with a tech degree – and people who wouldn’t get a chance to go to university.
As tax-payers, we should all love that the government has structured the funding for these based on actual positive results and outcomes, rather than effort and activity. The aim of these programmes is to get people working for companies in these roles. The funding available is about £3,000 per person but the lion’s share of the money is only paid when someone is actually in a job, ensuring the programmes achieve their aims! So here’s a big thumbs up to the UK government for getting this right.
What bootcamps are getting wrong
So what’s the problem? Well, local authorities who have been given this money by central government have to give quite a lot of this money back. Some of the companies that have been awarded the training contracts are indeed finding people and are training people – they’re thinking “we’re a training organisation and we’ve won these contracts before. We can do this digital stuff. How hard can it be?”. However, they’re falling at the last hurdle – the final but crucial part where ‘the rubber hits the road’ and they put people in front of experienced employers who know what’s required to do the job. There’s a disconnect between the knowledge these bootcamps give to their attendees and the skills employers are looking for.
“How hard can it be?” Quite hard, as it turns out.
It’s never as simple as ‘let’s find some people and give them some training’. Why do some digital bootcamps fail to adequately train people for the tech workplace? There are three reasons:
No soft skill training
We’ve seen some excellent people come out of bootcamps. We’ve also seen people who were downright rude to their interviewers, refusing to switch cameras on in video interviews or not turning up to interviews at all. We even had one person who just wanted to pitch us an app idea and was very rude when we explained to him we weren’t interested. Instead, we wanted to conduct an interview for the role he applied for!
Firstly, it is essential to fix this. If someone hasn’t had soft skills coaching, no level of technical knowledge is going to get them through the interview process. Employers aren’t just hiring the smartest people they can find, regardless of their demeanor. They’re hiring people who are the right fit for their business. They’re hiring people to join their team – ‘team’ being the key word here.
No situational training
Bootcamps should never only be about giving people skills. The training process should always be focused on preparing them to actually do a job. There’s a difference: you can teach someone coding skills but if they don’t have any exposure to what it’s like to work in an actual development team, then they’ll struggle.
Quality training prepares people for an actual event and stretches the individual to and beyond their limits in a safe environment. Failure should be encouraged because you learn from the mistakes you make. In one case we interviewed someone who had completed a development bootcamp but couldn’t answer even the most basic of questions – it transpired that the person who was training them had never actually done a single day’s work as a developer! How is that going to work?
No continued support
So much of training is picking people up when people have a wobble. Picking them up, dusting them down, supporting them and motivating them to try again. Many bootcamps appear to rely on organisations to provide this support – but these employers are already facing recruitment and resource issues. It isn’t unreasonable to suppose they also don’t have the support structures in place to support junior staff when they enter the workforce for the first time. In the thick of work, and when it’s all hands to the pumps to fix a problem, this is the first thing to go out of the window.
If an individual has a crisis of confidence or suffers from imposter syndrome, is the organisation’s tech lead skilled in coaching? Are they a mental health first aider? Are they able to support them if they need to move house? We’ve found these things are essential to successfully support someone breaking into a new industry. In fact, the criteria for success for these programmes shouldn’t be whether someone lands a role. It should be whether they are still in that role six months later.
If all you want to do is teach large numbers of people tech basics so you can say you’re ‘digitally upskilling’ them, then that’s okay but don’t equate that directly with being able to successfully place them into a role. There’s much more to it than that!