From Matt Massucci, Partner and Co-Founder, Hirewell
IT hiring has been strong for the last several years. Unemployment within Technology is below 3%, while nationally it is over 7.5%. But if you scan job postings, or talk to hiring decision makers, the vast majority of openings call for candidates with 5+ years of experience. This lack of entry level hiring has been the norm in the Chicago tech world since the late 90s. Following the dot com crash and then the off-shoring boom of last decade, companies have shown a real reluctance to hiring entry level engineers.
This trend feeds the current lack of qualified engineers, and perpetuates the same challenges for companies. The most common excuse for relying on experienced developers is lack of time to train and/or mentor fresh grads. Technology teams are all spread thin, so adding mentoring to a manager or lead's busy schedule is understandably a tough sell. Building a team that can support entry level engineers is a smart plan for long term organizational success.
Hiring Entry level developers has numerous advantages:
- New / fresh ideas - New hires can equal new ideas.
- Offload projects - Inexperienced developers are less likely to balk at support or maintenance projects that senior team members don't want to do. This will allow experienced team members to focus on strategic projects, and should make them happier.
- Save Money - Companies that don't grow their own teams typically rely on Consultants or hiring experienced developers. Consultants are expensive, but necessary when you are unable to build teams organically. Hiring experienced developers externally is also an expensive proposition. O
- Control your culture - Building an internal team allows organizations to mold employees, and teach strong habits. A company with a strong corporate culture can ingrain that from day one. This allows organizations to grow future leaders.
Unfortunately, a lot of local companies have missed the boat on this. Salaries for entry level grads have been creeping up, as companies on both coasts have worked to address talent shortages more aggressively. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), Undergrad Computer Science majors earn an average starting salary of $63,000. CS Graduates from the University of Illinois - Champaign/Urbana (UIUC) earn an average of $81,000. These numbers are skewed by the high number of graduates that move to the west coast after graduation. UIUC awards approximately 750 Computer Science / Computer Engineering degrees per year - roughly 2/3 of those are undergraduate degrees. Approximately 80% of those undergrads are from Illinois, but only 40% of them are taking jobs in Illinois. 23% move to the west coast, with another 20% moving to the Southwest or East Coast. Employers don't need to let those numbers scare them. The cost of living on the west coast is approximately 50% higher than Chicago. While 22 year olds might get swayed by $85,000 offers + signing bonuses, once they explore housing costs (110% higher), they'll quickly realize that extra salary doesn't go very far.
This brain drain has gone on for a number of years and has definitely taken its toll on the talent pool in Chicago. The lack of talented engineers is consistently mentioned as a limiting factor for numerous companies. Unfortunately, it goes much deeper than that - the list of notable UIUC engineers that have gone onto success in other markets is lengthy. Founders of dozens of Silicon Valley heavyweights graduated from UIUC, including: YouTube, Oracle, Yelp, Paypal, and Netscape.
Developing a new hire program, and tapping into all of the local talent (UIUC, UIC, DePaul, Northwestern, etc.) will take time, but the payoff will definitely be worth it. The career services office at local colleges are more than willing to help navigate the process. Companies that don't take advantage of young local talent will struggle in their attempts to scale. The sooner companies start, the faster their junior developers will be productive team members. Better yet - start building your internal talent pool even younger - hire an intern.