How to tackle the tech skills crisis - send for a Supermum!

Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett By Madeline Bennett May 28, 2019
Summary:
How parents and 'mum-trepreneurs' can plug the technology skills gap.

Heather Black

The need to attract more workers to the technology sector cannot be overstated. According to a recent skills shortages report from the Edge Foundation, there are currently an estimated 600,000 vacancies in digital technology across the UK alone. This is costing the country billions each year in lost revenues, and this will only get worse as the number of open vacancies is likely to rise to more than a million by the end of the decade. Outside of the UK, the situation is just as worrying.

The challenge is to tap into a huge pool of untapped talent, which could be targeted to help fill some of these gaps? That’s what Salesforce Supermums has been established to do.

Back in 2016, after the birth of her second daughter, Supermums founder Heather Black had a light bulb moment. Black was a self-taught Salesforce user from her role as MD of non-profit social enterprise Striding Out, which helps get young people into education, employment and training. When she decided to take a different direction - move out London, have a family, get a more flexible career role - she retrained as a Salesforce admin.

Having built up a successful business as a freelance Salesforce consultant, Black realised that there was potential to use the flexibility of working in technology as a hook to get other women retrained and back to work after having children. Focusing on the specific role of Salesforce admin made sense, Black said, as 50% of these workers are women:

Having worked part time as a Salesforce consultant, earning a good day rate, I realised it was an opportunity that other mums could do. And running a consultancy in that market, I realised there was a need to get more people into the sector to service the needs of the growing Salesforce demand. So that's when I just thought, I'll start shouting out to other mums.

Supermums is the result. Since its launch in November 2016, 115 mums (and a few dads – the training is open to either parent) from five different countries have taken the course so far. Trainees study for 16 hours a week over six months, including holiday breaks.

Currently, Supermums offers one Salesforce admin course per quarter, with 20 places. The plan is to expand this to offer Pardot, Marketing Cloud, Salesforce Develop and Salesforce AI courses.

Black has been careful to set the organisation up as a self-funding model so it’s a sustainable business: trainees pay £1,500 to sit the course, and once they’re placed in a role, Supermums earns a recruitment fee. However, she has also had a lot of support from Salesforce, both in raising the profile of the organisation through events like the World Tour series of conferences and by getting a 50% discount on Trailhead fees – trainees take these modules as part of the overall programme.

Backgrounds

Just as Black came into Salesforce from a non-technical background – she has a degree in geography – most of the Supermums are from other sectors, including marketing, teachers, lawyers, PAs and business analysts.

To counter the lack of confidence women might have in their ability to work in the technology sector, Black created resources for mums to explore a career with Salesforce. This includes completing Trailhead modules on the different roles on offer and to help them understand Salesforce, as well as watching videos of mums who've been on the course and have landed a job, to show a day in the life of a Supermum:

They listen to where people started, their journey, where they are now. So it's not just my message and voice, it’s other voices and they're also becoming local ambassadors and replicating that message. It's just really inspiring them and giving a little bit more insight into what the jobs are, because the biggest barrier is - I can't imagine what life would be.

The other important point is, in the Salesforce ecosystem you've got sales roles, you've got marketing roles, account management roles, project management roles, you’ve got technical roles. So you don't have to be doing tech to be in the Salesforce ecosystem. Our mums are going into a whole range of roles.

Of those mums who have completed the course, 85 percent have landed a job within three months, either within Salesforce, or at a customer or partner; the others have chosen not to go back into work for the time being for various reasons. The success rate is aided by a focus at Supermums on helping women market themselves as attractive employees:

We've developed an employability module for them to work through all the things that they need to do, like their LinkedIn profile, talking about case studies, talking about their Trailheads, doing top tips for interview success. What I say to them is, you're in a good place here and people do want this. So go in and be bold.

We do a lot of employability coaching around that as well, particularly for the mums who've been out of work longer and are going in for an interview for the first time. I'm constantly saying that you might get rejected the first, second time, but you might get the third one. One of our mums was out of work for 11 years, but she got her first job and she's doing exceptionally well, she’s been there two years now.

Black is now focused on expanding Supermums, both globally and to target a different group of women. Attendees have mostly been from the UK so far, but the intention is to build up attendance across EMEA. Supermums will also launch in the US later this year, with the first course in November, and then in Australia in 2020. Black is keen to hear from any organisations that might want to be involved to offer sponsorship and support in these regions, adding that Supermums has benefited hugely from having over 50 volunteers from Salesforce mentor the mums.

'Mum-trepreneurs' are also on the radar for Black, who feels there is a great opportunity for women to get back into work by opening up their own small businesses, using Salesforce as the foundation:

I'm not from a coding background, so I was thinking I can't do a database but I realised I loved configuring it and really making it work for Striding Out. It helped me manage my non-profit to go from £100,000 to £1.3 million in a year because I had a database and you had all the data intelligence to help me win bids and projects. So that's the story I tell now to other non-profits that I work with.