Posted on January 31, 2020 by staff

Generation doubles headcount, reveals UK plans


Skills gap training organisation Generation is expanding in the UK as it looks to connect more tech firms with trained employees from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Michael Houlihan, the firm’s COO and UK lead, told BusinessCloud that this month the firm hired 10 new employees in the UK, bringing its total to 17.

Generation’s UK base is one of 13 around the world and was founded by management consulting giant McKinsey & Company as a non-profit.

Its aim is to give students and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds the training they need to become valuable employees in the tech industry.

It is currently running its tech programmes in Manchester and London, and is in the process of rolling out across the country, with the hope of expansion into Birmingham next month, followed by Dublin and Scotland this year.

It is also adding new programmes, including software engineering, in direct response to the UK’s tech skills gap at entry-level positions.

Houlihan said the skills gap was particularly acute in the UK because of its booming tech sector, which had left education chasing to catch up.

“We are continually amazed by the number of people that we meet that have a proven interest in technology, but just haven’t had the right bridge to get into get into technology jobs,” he told BusinessCloud.

“We’re absolutely convinced that there are millions of people out there like that.”

Generation hopes to close skills gaps by providing 12-week training schemes designed to skill up workers for a specific job in the industry.

Generation will be placing staff who were in manual labour positions at Amazon’s UK distribution centres into tech jobs at the company’s hosting arm Amazon Web Services.

“You would be absolutely amazed at the potential of some of those people, who just through circumstances life have ended up in a job which is just scratching the surface of their potential.”

Founded in 2015, Houlihan joined the organisation as it completed its UK launch plans in 2018.

It now has 3,000 employer partners globally, and its UK arm trains young people to go to work with its 30 or so partners.

Its re/Start programme with AWS helps the likes of the Financial Times, Sony PlayStation and Cancer Research by training its students to work inside these organsations on AWS technology.

“AWS are painfully aware of the digital skills gap,” he said of the firm, which is under pressure to create the talent needed to maintain the technology across the UK.

Houlihan called the re/Start programme a very productive relationship, which specifically helps people that are disadvantaged or may not have come from a technical background.

The organisation focuses on finding its students in areas of high unemployment. Houlihan said Tower Hamlets in London and Moss Side in Manchester were areas they had already worked within.

In finding new students, it uses its working relationship with DWP and its job centres, and with charities including the Prince’s Trust, to find new applicants.

It also uses its successful graduates as ambassadors of the programme, which has proven to be the most powerful means of getting the word out.

But the COO said that while the program is getting new people into tech jobs to fill the skills gap, it did not mean that a job in tech was for everyone.

Its classes of 25 receive around 300 applications, which means a selection process is inevitable. True to its ethos, a decision is made by assessing the intrinsic skills of every applicant, rather than their CV.

“I don’t think anyone can do a technology job. We care passionately that technology jobs are not just limited to those who have succeeded through the traditional educational routes.

“Not everyone is excited about technology, and that is a prerequisite. Whatever your background and challenges in life you’ve got, there’s got to be a spark that we can build upon.

“We try and be really clear about where we fit into the system. But that means that we can build really strong relationships with charities that are in local communities.”

Houlihan had spent the previous decade helping to build UK tech start-ups. He called this time a “fulfilling, slightly chaotic” journey.

His roles as Chief Strategy Officer at content platform Reevoo and COO and Director for digital content firm Quill were during a transformational time for the UK tech scene.

“The purpose was always to make a profit or realise a large exit,” he said.

But it had always been his intention, once he felt he was a credible leader, to move away from that fast-paced tech word into something centred around ‘tech for good’.

“I heard about Generation and all the amazing things it is doing in other countries and wanted to bring those to the UK.”

It now aims to take 1,000 new students into employment this year, while maintaining its 97% graduation rate.

“We’re only just getting going,” he said. “We see an opportunity to grow this to be helping tens of thousands of people in the UK alone each year.

“We would like to be filling 10-15% of market vacancies through our programmes, in the professions which we target. That is a sensible ambition level.

“At that kind of level of market presence, we have almost forced the industry to think differently about recruitment methods and channels and opportunities.

“Part of our agenda is system changes. It’s not just what we can achieve by ourselves, but it’s how we can support the wider system and policymakers and other training providers to work together to make programmes like ours available to a much wider set of people.”