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Why recruiters are looking beyond IT's traditional talent pool

Brain surgeon? Anthropologist? Ex-NASA? You're just what we're looking for

Does STEM sell?

Despite an increase in the number of people choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses at University, there’s a growing feeling among employers that the IT grads churned out by the education system are far from oven-ready. Statistics published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) consistently rank computer science as the subject area in which the highest percentage of students are unemployed after six months.

Certainly, the demand for recruits who can combine IT know-how with business acumen has never been higher. When it comes to recruiting IT staff, hiring managers are in some cases looking for something that they simply don’t get from the same old BI or computer science candidates. Many agree that employees hired from outside the computer sciences discipline can bring fresh perspectives into the company which haven’t been shaped into a specific way of thinking from their academic careers.

“Bringing a new perspective on board by hiring from outside the immediate industry can also inspire change and innovation, because these candidates are more likely to challenge the status quo and question the processes already in place,” says Richard Shea, managing director EMEA search at Futurestep.

There’s also a growing recognition that vast swathes of good people are actively choosing not to go into Higher Education, as the prospect of huge debt turns many off. Anthony Sherick, head of sales and marketing for IT recruitment website Technojobs, says the shift in employer attitudes towards undergraduate computer sciences degrees is illustrated by the findings of a recent survey it conducted. The results suggested that three-quarters of IT employers did not think an IT-related degree was a prerequisite to an IT job.

The reason for this shift is as much about the economics of hiring as it is about the quality of computer sciences grads, Sherick says. “I think it’s primarily because there aren’t enough well-qualified people out there and the ones that are command a much higher salary. This approach also means you can mould someone according to your own systems, infrastructure and processes in place.”

Whatever their reasons for casting the net wider, vacancy growth is being driven by huge demand across cyber and IT security, Big Data analytics, mobile web development and front-end digital roles, including web analytics, digital architects and digital transformation.

“One of my clients has told me that as long as candidates have a solid understanding of online technology and an online capability, they should get in touch. He’s not specifying an IT degree,” Sherick says.

Zhang and LinkedIn are good examples. Before LinkedIn, Zhang worked at eBay and PetCo, was an intern for SAP and developed a background in CRM. He learned on the job: he spent weeks on raw data entry then turned to CRM systems management work and learned statistics at the library at weekends. After 2005, Zhang reckons he began to understand machine learning and data modellers. “Then I started having a true sense of numbers,” he tells El Reg.

Zhang took to the role so well he recently left LinkedIn to set up and run his own data-analytics start-up.

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