The importance of having a diverse workforce w/ Jess Sewter from Generation

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Hear from Generation – one of our Ten10 Academy cohort partners – about how they help us bring people from underrepresented backgrounds into tech

On this episode of Ten Minutes with Ten10, we’re speaking with Jess Sewter, Chief Partnerships Officer at Generation, about the importance of having a diverse workforce and the role that career counselling plays for people entering a new industry.

Generation is one of the organisations we work with to recruit talented prospects into the Ten10 Academy. It is an independent nonprofit founded in 2014 by McKinsey & Company to help bridge the gap between young people who are unemployed and employers struggling to find people with the skills they need for entry-level jobs. Click to listen below or read the interview’s transcript.

Tell everyone about Generation – what do you do and how long have you been operating?

We’re a global network. We’re an employment charity and we’ve been set up to support people facing barriers to work, train them, and place them into great life-changing careers. We set up in the UK and Ireland as a charity in 2019 and I was brought in to set up our Leeds region in 2021. That’s when we started working with Ten10.

How important is career counselling for people who are entering a new industry?

It’s hugely important. I think the thing about the tech sector is it’s a bit of a myth for people who aren’t in it. It’s about making it real for people – accessing it. [Making it] so they can see what the roles are, what people do, and how their skills can fit into that.

I think that’s the mystery that we try to dispel. Right from our admissions process and outreach work when we’re out in communities and in job centres, and talking to charities and people under-employed or unemployed, we will talk about a data engineering program or a cloud program and then talk about what kind of roles you can get from that and what kind of technology stems from that. Then on our curriculum, they’ll hear a lot about that. We bring employers in who would make that very real and talk about their roles and what their organisations do. We then support [attendees] in a placement phase where we help them secure some work, and they can see what the options are there.

I think it’s important for people to see themselves in the tech sector and know how they can contribute. And [see] it’s not just people who are good at Computer Science at school, that [having] a good way of thinking and problem-solving and being innovative are all great ways you can have an amazing tech career.

Yes, I’ve spoken with some of the people who come for our Academy and they end up in roles that they had no idea even existed when they joined us. We have people who end up in Business Analysis or DevOps and they thought working in tech required an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of coding and development and all of these different kinds of languages. It must be amazing to have people who have that passion for technology and know that there is a career somewhere in there and just need that support and encouragement to see what options are out there.

Absolutely. And it’s about getting the right people. We have a very supportive application process but we need to make sure people have the right aptitude so we’ll test for some tech stuff without people even realising it and then we’ll know which role they’re best fit for and which program they’re best fit for so that’s quite an interesting part of the process.

You said earlier it’s important for people to see themselves reflected in the industry and reflected in technology. As much as some positive strides have been made, there are still some underrepresented groups so what are you doing to help out people from those backgrounds?

This is our bread and butter at Generation. This is our whole focus: people from underrepresented backgrounds. There are lots of bootcamps out there that will help people switch from one career to another or someone who’s had a short gap and then they want to retrain, but we’re about people who haven’t quite made it. Haven’t quite had a successful career, but have all the intrinsics and motivation to succeed.

Everyone is underemployed or unemployed when they join us and then we count people’s situational circumstances or protected characteristics as barriers to work and on average our grads and our learners will have about four or five. They may be a single parent or come from a low socioeconomic background, they might not have a degree, they might be neurodiverse, or they might have English as an additional language. There’s a whole combination of these which doesn’t make people any less capable or any less motivated – even women getting into tech is seen as a barrier – [but] statistically we see that these people are less likely to succeed in these kinds of roles.

We see perpetual underrepresentation in the sector and that’s what we’re passionate about – transforming that and fighting against that. While there’s a real focus on skills gaps, we would love the government to be more mindful and considerate of levelling up and transforming economic mobility and social mobility at the same time.

One thing we’re passionate about is pushing that diversity of thought that comes from having people from all those different backgrounds. They have all these different experiences and that’s certainly something that we want to communicate with employers: you need a diverse team because they’re going to approach problems creatively and come up with these wildly different solutions and if you already have a team and just need to replace them with someone who’s basically the same, you’re always going to work in the same way and you’re never going to innovate and move forward.

Absolutely and it’s not just about societal benefits. This is about business benefits, right? That cognitive diversity that you get in teams. What organisations will say to us is that all of their clients or end users are diverse and those are the communities they’re trying to serve and reflect. So it makes sense that the people building the technology are the ones that can represent the communities they’re serving.

I’d like to finish with a question about the wider tech skills gap because Generation is an organisation that’s grown and you’ve worked with many countries all over the world. In your experience is the shortage of tech talent being felt in some places more than others or is it simply as widespread as a global problem?

I think it’s pretty universal. Tech sectors are growing everywhere therefore the gap widens everywhere. We started in the US in 2015 when there was a real tech skill shortage there, but it is happening in all countries.

I think that underrepresentation and that diversity we were talking about – as that gap widens so does the underrepresentation. It’s hard to catch up because when [companies] need people, they hire senior and experienced people over entry-level talent and certainly over diverse entry-level talent so there’s still a lot to do on that front.

There are still a lot of organisations that need to think about building those pipelines so they have entry-level people come in then, in those times when they need it, they’ve got people ready who can move into those mid-senior roles. I’d love to see some more long-term thinking on this but at the same time, the market’s been very weird this year. There have been a lot of recruitment freezes based on the economic downturn, the little taste of recession, people pausing on projects, and consultancies hit especially. We are a bit up and down with the market but the tech skills gap is still certainly there.

Flexibility has proved to be such an important facet of bringing talent into an organisation. That’s something we try to address things where [companies] might need a lot of talent straight away, or you might need them for six months or nine months but then if you have to scale down you can. If you need to scale up, then you can. It is very encouraging that we’re moving away from people just seeing traditional recruitment and just posting on job boards and just getting people with STEM degrees. Thankfully, now things have changed and people are opening their eyes to organisations like Generation and academies like the one we run at Ten10 so that they can get that diverse talent and they can get it however they need it.

I would say Ten10 are pushing the boundaries there because I remember when Ten10 recruited uni grads and now guys are getting a diverse range of people coming through which is wonderful to see. And nurturing and upskilling [them] which is so important and you’ve had so many success stories through that so it’s great to see.

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Diversity, equality and inclusion are at the heart of everything we do as we know that having a diverse workforce means more creative and innovative solutions to long-standing challenges.