The fundamental paradox of the American jobs market is that millions of people are out of work, while millions of jobs are open because employers can't find skilled employees to fill them. Facebook, PayPal, and Mozilla are looking to bridge that disconnect while doing social good, with the help of an organization called Year Up.
Year Up works with disadvantaged young adults to provide training in IT jobs and an internship in IT, which often leads to a job.
"Right now, we've got more than three million jobs open in this country and 10 million unemployed. Why can't we connect them?" said Jay Banfield, Founding Executive Director for Year Up, moderating a panel at the recent E2Innovate conference.
Facebook finds its growth limited by the availability of good people with basic science and math skills, said Steve Ruggiero, director of IT operations for Facebook.
The social network also needs critical problem solving skills; because the company is breaking new technology ground, employees can't count on looking up answers to questions on the Internet. Equally important, IT employees need to be generalists, with soft skills, including the ability to tell stories that get other people passionate about working in teams.
Rapid change in the technology industry means that specific skills are less important than the ability to learn and work in a business environment, the panelists said. For example, strategic technologies such as Hadoop simply didn't exist five years ago. So Mozilla doesn't expect to find job candidates versed in the latest technologies, said Matthew Zeier, senior director of IT for Mozilla. Mozilla places more importance on growth potential in new hires than current skills.
The rate of change will likely continue, with technology moving in surprising directions, Nora Grasham, director of product development for PayPal, said.
Schools haven't been turning out the candidates that companies need. That failure isn't the fault of the schools alone; educational institutions lack the ecosystem of business partners needed to give students the tools they need for the workplace, Ruggiero said.
Grasham said she would like schools to do more to teach teamwork to IT students. If businesses cooperated with schools to designate problems for students to work on, they would benefit by finding the solutions, and students would be able to tell job interviewers about what they accomplished, rather than simply listing the classes they took. The projects would also give students an opportunity to exercise teamwork skills needed in the workplace.
All three companies rely on mentoring to help candidates grow once they've joined the company. Mozilla looks to surround entry level employees with people who can teach them the skills they need to advance.
Similarly, Facebook uses the on-boarding process to identify strengths and passions in new hires, Ruggiero said. Engineers go to a six-week boot camp to study Facebook's technology and methods, and when they're done, the candidates pick their own teams to work with. That allows training to be self-directed.
EBay, which owns Paypal, uses training and opportunities to change jobs within the company to make employees want to stay, said Grasham, who has been with eBay for 12 years.
"If you grow skills in the company, then the skills the company needs five years from now are more likely to be there," Ruggiero said.
All three companies praised Year Up as a source of recruits. The recruits are impressive because they have a passion to succeed, and they're not afraid of failure or taking risks.
"What keeps us coming back [to Year Up] is we know they're going to be incredibly motivated," Grasham said.
Zeier spoke about one rising star at Mozilla who started as a Year Up intern. He started working on desktop support, and took it on himself to fix bugs and push Web content. Now, the employee is part of the team that manages uptime. "He's going to be a leader tomorrow. He doesn't know he's on that path, but he is," Zeier said.
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— Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution