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Project management can help push bias out of the system - Blog

Project management can help push bias out of the system

We face a skills crisis across the UK technology market. Whether you believe the skills businesses need are in the wrong place, or that talent pools simply don't exist, there is huge pressure placed on the careers market.

Let's take data science as an example. In the US, there are projected to be 150,000 unfilled vacancies—IBM predicts demand to grow by 28 percent by 2020. the Information Security sector alone as 600,000 unfilled jobs. Relying on our existing routes into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) roles (including project management) is not an option. The pipeline is bust.

The problem is compounded by the way companies seek to acquire talent. When a business increases their talent acquisition, they engage in-house and external recruiters by giving them a very narrow field within which to search; Prince2 or Agile, and commercial experience delivering projects to a limited budget. This is an entirely traditional view of the talent that business needs.

The situation is then made worse by a collective abdication of responsibility from industry to train new skills. When start-ups are asked why they don't hire diverse pools of candidates, the reasons provided usually direct to lack of available bandwidth to hand-hold junior staff, whilst businesses claim pressure from senior management to deliver against targets. There is a serious lack of ownership and growing talent pool.

This is quite unfortunate because project management provides a clear opportunity to welcome diverse talent into STEM roles from other walks of life.

My wife trained to be an actress. When we met eight years ago she was treading the boards in the West End. She had been in TV, on radio, and multiple stage productions. The West End show was a big-budget production of The Tempest, starring Oscar-nominee Ralph Fiennes. Then she was struck down by illness and couldn't commit to a new show for over a year. Sadly, in the acting profession, a single industry such as that is enough to kill a promising career. She was left pondering about her future.

I encouraged her to apply for a role as a project coordinator. She questioned my judgement, citing a lack of experience. But what skills do you need for project management? The ability to handle challenging personalities, and work under pressure as part of a team to a tight-deadline. Try appearing in two shows a day with actors harboring big egos, in-front of a packed theatre for three months. So, if she could handle that tough environment, then she could by all means thrive in a project management environment.

When she got the role she discovered that a senior colleague was a former member of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour, and a childhood friend of the Spanish professional tennis player, Rafael Nadal. She'd trained hard for years to make the grade as a professional sports woman only to have her career snatched away by injury.

I am aware of other similar examples, such as the former head of British Airways cabin services team. The person had no previous technology sector experience, and no project management methodology understanding. Now this individual is a C-level executive within the industry and a strong proof that a wider appreciation of skills can solve our crisis.

Recently I met the founder of a company called MeVitae, Riham Satti. She explained that data and machine learning (ML) could be used to find relatable skills. Where a hiring manager or recruiter might spot the relevance of certain previous experiences, machine intelligence could look past that bias.

The technology works to actively widen that scope of what could be considered for an open role. In my experience, with over decade of hands-on recruitment experience, my wife's experience is rare and wholly reliant on a very deep level of trust between managers and suppliers. That is not a scalable model. ML and data can work to remove the inherent bias in that process towards a shrinking, expensive talent pool, and a project management role can help to usher a new generation of diverse talent onto STEM career pathways.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2020