In many ways, the Great Resignation has taken companies across all industries hostage. In the Triangle, while the tech ecosystem is generally thriving, companies have been forced to adapt their ways of recruiting and developing talent.
Durham coding school Momentum and Durham web development agency Caktus Group have teamed up to tackle the issues head-on. Via the partnership, Caktus sponsored four students through Momentum’s full-stack engineering program to help close the tech talent gap and provide more opportunities for those who are traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry.
Caktus looked for students who were aligned with its core values, bringing onboard those who were curious and displayed the ability to stay nimble and adaptive. Caktus covered 50 percent of each sponsored student’s Momentum tuition, and the students also benefited from access to Caktus’ team throughout their courses.
Following their Momentum graduation—three of the four members of the first Caktus-sponsored cohort graduate tomorrow—some students may be invited to join the team as an apprentice for a project lead.
Caktus first approached Momentum about the sponsorship last summer. Caktus, like many other companies, was experiencing a talent crunch. With the news of tech giants like Apple and Google setting up shop in the Triangle, they recognized that recruitment would likely only get harder.
Momentum was at the top of Caktus’s list of organizations to partner with in order to invest in new talent, said Kel Hanna, Caktus’ Chief of Curation.
By sponsoring students through Momentum’s program, Caktus is taking a more proactive approach compared to many other companies. Instead of just raising salaries hoping that will attract talent, they are helping to build talent —and potentially developing company loyalty in those whose careers they sponsored.
While the Great Resignation has posed a significant challenge for employers, the flip side is the increased opportunities for employees. That’s been particularly true for the Triangle tech community, said Momentum CEO Jessica Mitsch Homes. Many people have left their previous jobs and view the tech industry as one that can provide a pandemic-proof career.
“There are so many people out there who have re-evaluated what their careers look like,” said Mitsch Homes. “They’ve left service roles, or jobs that don’t make a lot of money, or even professional jobs that were good jobs by any objective measure and said, ‘You know, I need something different from my life. And this is my time to re-evaluate.’ What the tech industry provides them is that ability to have a flexible, work-from-home, intellectually driven job.”
Even before the past year or two, Caktus was already deep in the process of rethinking its purpose and distribution of power to support a new organizational structure and way of operating, Hanna said. The realization was simple, she said: “Expand the spirit of the agile methodology, philosophy, and mindset to all areas of the company—not just our development practices.”
She expects that other companies will continue to increasingly use staffing agencies to source high-demand talent and create hybrid teams that collaborate across multiple states. There will likely be more asynchronous work and communication and a larger shift to an apprenticeship-style model for developing early talent.
The Caktus-Momentum sponsorship is one model of approaching the talent shortage in a novel way.
Said Mitsch Homes, “I think companies being proactive and not thinking about talent acquisition in the way that they’ve thought about in the past is so critical right now.”
Even while Caktus, as a small agency, might not be able to hire every Momentum scholar it sponsors, it still is a way to contribute to building tech talent in the Triangle.
“I am really encouraged to see that we have employers stepping up and saying, ‘We’ve got a responsibility in building talent,'” Mitsch Homes said. “We can’t just expect people to arrive on the scene and have the skills that we need.”
Momentum is also running a special over the next month, offering its self-paced, virtual Foundations class for free. Students in the course can work with instructors live during upcoming office hours.
Seeking more such partnerships
Last year, Momentum ran a similar partnership with Spencer Health and it hopes to find other local organizations who are interested in sponsoring students as well, Mitsch Homes said. She hopes that 50-plus percent of students at Momentum will be able to have this type of sponsorship relationship with a company in the future, following in Caktus’s footsteps.
“They did it in an economical way for a small agency that’s going to have a big impact,” Mitsch Homes said. “And I think it’s going to reverberate for years to come.”
Hanna said she hopes the partnership will encourage others in the tech community to trust their own ideas, listen to the voices of their team members and inspire seemingly unlikely innovations.
“Momentum has done a fantastic job investing in the growth of new talent,” Hanna said. “From a micro-view, it may not seem like one graduating class of students will make a dent in solving the tech talent shortage. But community connections are often exponential.”
She added, “I imagine this group will enter into the workforce with such tenacity and hope, influencing others who are wondering if they have the courage, will, and talent to enter into this market to take a leap of faith.”