Chief Executive Insights

What I Learned Helping Microsoft Expand Its Cloud Workforce With a Nearly 100% Success Rate

Jeffrey Mazur

The current talent shortage shows no signs of slowing down. If you struggle to find the right talent to meet your company’s ever-changing needs, it’s time to start thinking outside the box when building your talent pipeline. As I’ve learned helping Microsoft and many other organizations fill the gap, the following strategies will get your company moving in the right direction.

With an already vast shortage of digital talent, tech companies around the world are struggling to find candidates with the right skills and qualifications to meet their specific and growing needs. My company partnered with Microsoft to tackle this problem head-on by developing a talent pipeline to fill in the gaps.

LaunchCode’s program is designed to give workers the skills they need to reskill into and succeed in tech roles. We designed a strategy to build a curriculum specific to Microsoft’s talent needs, marketed the course to individuals with the necessary qualifications (particularly veterans with high-level security clearance), carefully assessed candidates’ aptitude to learn new skills, and worked hand in hand with Microsoft to prepare students to become successful employees. And it worked: We saw a nearly 100% success rate, with 40 students completing the most recent cohort and 39 becoming Microsoft employees.

Creating Your Own Talent Pipeline

If you’ve found yourself struggling to find the right talent to meet your company’s ever-changing needs, it’s time to start thinking outside the box when it comes to building your talent pipeline. As I’ve learned helping Microsoft and many other organizations fill the gap, the following strategies will set your company off in the right direction:

  1. Evolve your practices to meet your needs.
    Whether you’re leading a startup or Fortune 500 company, the time has come to rethink your hiring and training practices. Approach both processes with more of a disruptor mindset, displacing norms and taking risks on out-of-the-box ideas.

    Move toward customized, flexible, and targeted solutions that might stray far from traditional talent acquisition or career development strategies of the past. Take the cloud, for example: It’s still an emerging technology, so it’s not part of the curriculum at many universities or boot camps. If you’re looking for cloud tech skills, you’re unlikely to find them through traditional talent pipelines. And what happens when your needs evolve from the cloud into something else?

    It didn’t take long for my team to recognize that our curriculum would need to change as Microsoft’s needs changed. Built-in flexibility was necessary to respond to evolving skills requirements. For example, we started students out learning JavaScript but quickly realized that C# skills would be much more valuable, so we adjusted the course and changed directions. You need a flexible talent strategy that can change as quickly as your needs do.

  2. Grow your own talent to customize skills.
    Many companies still compete for the same top-tier candidates in what’s often a small talent pool. A much more strategic, accessible, and affordable approach is to hire for attitude rather than existing skills and then to shape employees to fit your current and future needs.

    For this to work, the initial vetting process is key. Of course, marketing the opportunity can be a challenge, but the bigger challenge lies in determining which candidates will not only succeed in training, but also thrive in their new roles. As my team sought out candidates for Microsoft, we weren’t looking for people who already had the skills Microsoft needed. We were looking for passion, drive, and aptitude, trying to uncover capabilities to learn and evolve.

    Embedding many junior-level employees at one time can also be a challenge. We found that high engagement with students from the beginning was the best solution. Microsoft hosted events such as “career modules” to give students a clear idea of the day-to-day life of Microsoft employees. Not only can this help students adapt to new roles faster, but it can also get them more invested in working with your company. The tech talent market is incredibly competitive right now, and the students we were training were becoming highly marketable. Making them feel like they were already part of the Microsoft team was essential for keeping them on board.

  3. Be more predictive of future talent needs.
    When thinking through your talent and skilling strategies, you must expand your vision beyond your needs of today to predict your needs in the future as well. Don’t wait to react until these needs become glaring. Fill skills gaps proactively with a future-looking approach.

    Microsoft’s high-level security clearance requirements led us to the military community, where we found many candidates with the necessary requirements who would soon be looking for work. But we had to be strategic in our timing, as we needed to attract military members who were being discharged in a time frame that would allow them to take the course and start their new roles.

    What this taught us is that timing is everything when it comes to finding and developing talent in emerging fields. If Microsoft hadn’t known its specific talent requirements ahead of time, we wouldn’t have been able to align our recruiting strategies properly. Remember that if you’re focusing on only your immediate needs, you’re significantly limiting your ability to find the right talent for the future.

    The talent shortage won’t change any time soon. It’s more important than ever to rethink your hiring and skilling strategies to fill both current and future roles. If you’re willing to take risks and design new ways to grow your talent pipelines and develop the skills you need, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of competitors who are still searching through stagnant traditional talent pipelines.

Written by Jeffrey Mazur.
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Jeffrey Mazur
Jeffrey Mazur is the former executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. Mazur lives in St. Louis with his wife and twin girls.

Jeffrey Mazur is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.