Equalising opportunity: alternative routes to tech

In this episode of in:tech we talk to Gori Yahaya, an award-winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker, mentor, and CEO of UpSkill Digital. Gori is the founder of one of the UK’s leading tech skills bootcamps and an expert on what it takes to attract new talent to the tech industry and give them the skills they need to succeed.

In addition to sharing lessons from his experience attracting talent to take part in training and upskilling programmes, he also shares what organisations look for when engaging with training providers. 

If you would like to learn more about Gori, visit goriyahaya.com. For information about UpSkill Digital, please visit upskilldigital.com.

Listen to the podcast episode here or on Global Player


The transcript of this episode

Note: in:tech transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors.

Rebecca Donnelly:

You're listening to in:tech, the diversity and inclusion podcast from the Tech Talent Charter with me your host, Rebecca Donnelly. This podcast is for business leaders, people leaders, and diversity leaders who want to make their organisations more inclusive, more diverse, and more equitable, but need some help, advice, or inspiration wherever they are on that journey.

In each episode, we speak to leading names from across the technology sector who share their practical insights on how organisations can deliver on their D&I commitments. For companies looking to boost their tech workforce and upskill their business, the tried and trusted methods of recruitment are no longer cutting it.

There is quite simply a shortage of tech skills. To tackle this and to build more diverse and dynamic teams, it's essential to recruit from a broader talent pool and consider candidates from less traditional backgrounds or those who might be approaching their tech careers through alternative route. If you are looking for advice on how to broaden your recruitment pool, you are in luck.

As our guest on this episode of in:tech is the founder of one of the UK's leading tech skills boot camps, and an expert on what it takes to attract new talent to the tech industry and give them the skills they need to succeed . Founder and CEO of Upskill Digital, Gori Yahaya.

Gori, welcome.

Gori Yahaya:

Hi Rebecca. Thanks for having me. It is great to be here.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Oh, well you're very welcome. But let me start by asking you just to tell us a bit more about Upskill Digital. How did it come about and what's your mission?

Gori Yahaya:

Upskill Digital has been around for about seven years. It's my third startups. I've had a few cracks at this one. Entrepreneurialism is part of my life. Upskill Digital is an organisation that fundamentally is focused on unlocking potential through the power of learning. That's what we do. We build learning programmes to help individuals essentially be able to get into the tech space, into tech roles. We help them progress through organisations and also essentially live happier, healthier and wealthier lives.

We know the power of upskilling, we know the power of reskilling. You can take ownership of your learning journey is so incredibly important.

Where did it come about? When I was at university, I realised that there was a huge skills mismatch with what you are taught through traditional education to what employees need out in the workforce. For me, that was an issue.

I also thought it was a challenge trying to get access to learning programmes that get you into a job that was focused on digital age, right? Around tech jobs. I thought there was an opportunity there to be able to create an organisation that could help individuals feel equipped to get into jobs that organisations and employers needed.

Getting that talent that had the tech skills to drive them to the digital age and you could do it at scale. That was really important for me. So when I was at university, I studied a course that was actually a chemistry course. It wasn't anything particularly exciting. I think it was my parents, and typical African parents, saying, you've gotta be a doctor, an engineer or an accountant. I said, look, let me meet you in the middle, I'll take chemistry. Let's see if that works? Odd choice, I know. But when I did that, even going through the system, I didn't feel that we were being equipped for the labour markets.

It became a bit of a shock when I came out of there thinking, I wanna work in tech, I wanna work in building websites and helping organisations in that space. At that time there weren't many courses out there that can help me learn that. So for me, Upskill Digital was an opportunity to build something where I could bring in really charismatic coaches that were experts in digital, create a platform that people could learn through and scale this, and that's really what I wanted to do, both, not just here in the UK but across the world.

I think the other really important point is that when people do get the skills that they need to get into the workforce, at the moment, there doesn't seem to be a conducive environment for progress. In my experience and through my network and people that have jumped in and out of organisations and not feeling that they could truly progress, I thought there was another problem that we can solve. Which is how do we help organisations create a culture that is fit for all diverse individuals that want to be able to progress through it or people feel that they can actually belong?

We really focus on creating inclusive and equitable environment so people can actually progress. That's another thing that I knew through Upskill Digital.

The reason we started with tech is because tech is the future. Tech is exactly where organisations are investing in, and I think people often didn't realise how much more you could make if you were working in the tech role, but many people can get into these organisations.

So I thought let me see if I can do this whole thing end to end. If I can get the right tech talent to get into organisations from all backgrounds and help organisations understand their diverse needs, then we could really build that pipeline in and then equip organisations with the ability to create a culture that people can actually not just feel like they belong, but also thrive in it as well.

That's a real key. It's trying to get the right tech talent into organisations, trying to make sure that the organisations are equipped for people to be able to progress, and then hopefully people feel like they'll be happier, healthier, and wealthier in these new jobs.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Connecting the dots between two groups of people who are not really very good at talking to each other.

Tell me about how organisations approach you to work with you? What are the kind of common issues or questions they have or problems they're trying to solve when they get in touch?

Gori Yahaya:

There's quite a few different problems that organisations come to us with. I'd say firstly, we need tech talent, and more specifically, we need diverse tech talent because the representation that we have internally is not where we'd like it to be, and we're looking for pipelines or candidate pools that we can tap into to get some really great talent from.

Other problems that exist would be losing diverse staff members at an alarming rate. Often organisations, they're probably recognising this more than ever before, but some of their diverse colleagues don't feel that culture is right in the organisation for them, so they're leaving.

When we have organisations come to us with that kind of problem, we really have to get under the skin and under the data that they have about where this is coming from, where the pain points are, where the barriers are. I mean, stats say 42% of black employees across all organisations resigned last year. It's huge.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Wow, that is a shocking number.

Gori Yahaya:

It's a shocking number, and I think it's because many of them have become more aware to the environment they're actually in, the lack of support they're getting, both from their managers and both the organisations themselves. We really truly want to help organisations understand how they can tackle that head on.

I guess the other final problem that we often get asked is we'd like to make a lasting impact in the local communities that we serve. How do we do that? We know there's a digital skills gap. How do we leverage the resource that we have to be able to support that mission?

That's part of our core, right? So what we try to do is give people an avenue and approach to be able to support communities, support business owners, support individuals, marginalised communities, and even students with an ability to get the skills they need to be able to thrive in the future workforce.

Rebecca Donnelly:

So how do you attract talent? How do you work with talent and then bridge the gap between them and the companies who are looking to boost their tech workforce?

Gori Yahaya:

Partnerships. We build our pipeline through the partnerships we have with universities, with colleges, youth centers, with a wide range of partners that we can work with that have access to talent with trapped potential.

We want to create an avenue for them to be able to learn and hopefully improve their happiness, their wealth by getting access to jobs that generally make more than many others, especially within tech. We invest a lot in recruitment. We invest a lot in attracting that talent and making the tech industry feel accessible, giving people belief that they could really go far within it.

Helping organisations make themselves look more attractive to talent, which I think is really important.

Rebecca Donnelly:

I'd love to come back to that one as well.

Gori Yahaya:

Yeah, absolutely. A lot of organisations really feel because we are a large name, it's enough. Because we've been in the game for a while, because we are a leading organisation in our industry that's enough for people to come here. It's not anymore. People need to know that you are invested in their growth.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Well, it feels like the tech sector should have a huge advantage here because there are a lot of opportunities. There are well paid roles. There are, as you say, companies with really big names that a lot of young people will have heard of.

But clearly there's still a real challenge and actually attracting talent into the companies. What are some of those challenges and how do you go about overcoming them?

Gori Yahaya:

Often it's because they don't have many people that look like the talent they're trying to attract to the organisation, and I'm trying to find a nice way to put it, but realistically, they look within and struggle to showcase an environment that anybody at externally would say, yeah, I look like I belong there, right? Or, I look like I can thrive there. I look like these are people that I'd love to work with.

How do we help organisations because we can't change that entire makeup overnight, so we get them to think a bit differently about the terminology they use to attract individuals. The job descriptions they put out there, how their career side is built to encourage and attract individuals to it.

The other big issues, when you do get people that are from a diverse community applying, sometimes they don't get through the front door, sometimes they don't get over the first step, and it could be for a number of different reasons. It could be because the hiring managers that you have aren't the best advocates for inclusion within the organisation.

If a candidate has gone through the first stage and they get to an interview stage and they're super excited and they think, actually, you're probably worth working for it. They get to a hiring manager and they get an interview.

In the interview, the interviewer says, tell me about your background. Tell me about your school. I don't relate to that , but what can you tell me about your experience there? And you get this feeling that this individual is looking for something they can latch onto, that they're connected to, and they thought, that's another reason why this might not be right for me.

I think what organisations can do, and what we try to help organisations do is really equip their hiring managers to be able to have more inclusive interview skills. Also give more inclusive feedback or actually feedback generally about the interviews that they're having. We train recruiters on tackling by and recruitments how to attract candidates, how to choose the right candidate for the job.

We also move into onboarding. So if you do make it all the way through, how do we set the environment right so that individual feels like they can progress and they can thrive and typically be a lack of transparency? Because again, not many organisations have a clear path to the top or clear path through the organisation.

So we get them to review this and then we educate them on why this matters and educate them on how they can change their behaviours to really drive that change in the organisation.

Rebecca Donnelly:

I was going to ask you about how you go about building an inclusive training program, but there's already so many more things you've mentioned. That's clearly just one really small part of it.

Where do you start with an organisation who comes to you and says we need more talent, we need to be more diverse. Help us out. Where do you start?

Gori Yahaya:

We typically start with the goals. They're organisations that are, that have made pretty clear commitments to drive change in their organisation, and sometimes it's backed by data. Sometimes it's more of a moral need to kind of change the representation and the makeup of their organisation.

We only really get involved with programmes that we know we can drive an element of change, that we know that the organisation is willing to pull the data to help us show that we are making progress.

We'll start with understanding what were your goals, what are your commitments? What does it mean to you if you do this? What does it mean to you if you don't do this?

We have an organisation, a large financial institution we work with that said, our goal is to double the number of black employees we have in the organisation. Okay, that's a goal. You know, we can work with that. Do you have the data? If we progress individuals needs, individuals that can go into new roles, so promotion of the organisation, if we can progress them, do you have the data on the number of roles available for people to progress? Do you have the data on the barriers that exist for those that progress? Do you have the data on the number of people that you have that are black individuals in the organisation?

We pull that data and say we have something to work with. Let's understand who the target market is, the target audience is, and let's try and help them on their journey. Let's map that out.

We typically have a core training program that will take individuals from an equity talent development perspective through a sort of a blended learning course that allows them to feel empowered that they can progress, and that the organisation cares about their progression within the organisation.

So again, you start with the data. You try to understand the learners, right? So we know where they're starting from.

Another element of that would be who are the enablers in helping us drive that progress? For example, we do a lot of people manager training, not just hiring manager, people manager training who are the enablers to help people progress. I'll give you a stat. When an organisation, that approached us a while back, they said last year, something like 75% of all leavers were people of colour. Across the organisation, people of colour and 60% of all promotions, or 70% of all promotions were white male.

We said, okay, that's a problem we have to deal with. And if you latch onto that, let's try and build a program that has people moving and then let's track it. And this is multi-year. This isn't an overnight, and we don't do tickbox. We have to build something that actually takes them over a longer period of time.

Rebecca Donnelly:

You talked about goals, and you talked about measuring retention and a path to success. What are good goals and how would a company establish useful diversity and inclusion goals? What kinds of things should they think about?

Gori Yahaya:

A lot of these goals are typically employee engagement related, right? So it could be retention, you know, the number of leavers you have from a particular, either ethnicity or background, or if they're gender, for example.

You can use that as a benchmark to set. And if you set goals against, So for example, you want to ensure that the number of people leaving from a particular background is less than it should be. Then we say, okay, let's work on that and let's try and build a program around that specifically. It might be trying to progress individuals within the organisation cause their barriers exists, right?

That's a harder one actually, in terms of like promotions, because not everyone's just going to get a promotion off the bat, right? What we're trying to do is make sure that we can enable mobility within an organisation. What does that look like? Where do the barriers lie? Let's tackle that.

They could be confidence in tackling bias within people managers. You can set a goals as an organisation to try and reduce that. Again, getting the right data first to work out what that looks like and reduce that. A lot of, when I talk goals, a lot of these are, like I said, HR goals. There could be employee and productivity, employee engagement. It could be probably retention or turnover depending on where you are in the world.

Our goal is to ensure that once you know those figures, that you know what you can strive to get to and how that all feeds into the culture of the business. That's really what we're trying to do is trying to help move culture. Beause culture itself might feel intangible to some people, but there are clear employee mobility metrics, engagement metrics, productivity metrics that latch onto that. And that's what we look for.

Rebecca Donnelly:

And you advise companies to focus on these points perhaps before they go out and try and start these talent programmes, or can they be done concurrently?

Gori Yahaya:

They can, I would say have a think about the acts of the data that you have before you go out to an organisation. Because there are many organisations that go to training companies and say, we just want training on X. Give us a anti-racism training. Let's just do that. Is that gonna cover everything we need?

It comes across quite tick-boxy. Because it just says you need to improve your cultural intelligence. That's enough. It's not because we've got a goal that we're moving towards.

If you truly wanna drive impact, go find the data. A lot of organisations are very hesitant on providing that data because either they hide behind some GDPR challenges and there are challenges around GDPR and release some of that data. But there are creative ways to be able to get it.

As an agency, we often have people that come to us and we take them on that journey to find that data because it directly ties into what we're trying to build and that we're trying to deliver as an organisation. If you don't have it, we'll help you understand what you need.

When we do what we do, we think about ROI. So we need to show the return against what you're investing in. To do that, we need to have the data to get there, so that's really important for us. We wanna make sure that we can help you on that journey.

Rebecca Donnelly:

What I love about everything you're saying is just how practical, how tangible [it is].

You're talking about data. You're talking about action, you're talking about being really specific. So let's get specific now and talk about action and what our listeners can really take away from this conversation and some of the things we're talking about.

In every episode of in:tech, we ask our guests to share some tangible advice that listeners can put into practice in three minutes, three weeks, and three months after listening to the program.

Tell me what is something that people can do right now within three minutes of listening to this podcast to get make a start on this journey.

Gori Yahaya:

Three minutes is short. There's a TED Talk I think you should watch, Amber Hikes. It's on lifting others while you climb. I think it's an incredible TED Talk that helps you really understand that it's not one or the other. It's not that somebody else will need to suffer for you to be able to climb, or that if you help somebody else up or amplify somebody else's voices, that your voices suffers off the back of it.

I think it's a great starting point for your learning journey for you to really understand the power of lifting everybody together. Also, if you are an ethnic diverse individual or someone in an organisation thinking I can send the ladder back down or I can help others. I think it's very important that you understand your starting point.

In three minutes, I don't even know if that's exactly three minutes long, but definitely...

Rebecca Donnelly:

You can get quite a long way into it.

Gori Yahaya:

You can get long enough to get the vibe and if you want to go beyond three minutes, please do . It's a good starting point. So I think that allows you to set the framework, it's at the ground rules around your learning moving forward.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Okay, so you've watched the TED Talk, you're feeling inspired and motivated. What can our listeners do in three weeks to really start taking proper action?

Gori Yahaya:

You better get ready to get uncomfortable. It's not supposed to be an easy journey, but it's supposed to be a journey of learning. So I would say within the three weeks, I would implore that you have an uncomfortable conversation or a conversation with someone from a different ethnicity or perhaps a conversation you wouldn't typically have in the workplace with a colleague, potentially somebody in your team around career progress and challenges around that.

Having that conversation within that three week period will allow you to at least have had practice of understanding your cultural intelligence and improve your understanding around the challenges that either people face or just broaden your mindset. So my three week challenges around a conversation and actually force yourself to have the conversation and once you've had it, reflect on it.

But I don't mean a conversation that happened with your partner or someone, or whatever it might be. I mean, somebody in the workplace that you don't typically get to talk to, but you'd love to hear a bit more about their journey.

Rebecca Donnelly:

I'm going to push you on being really, really specific because we love to be really tangible in tech.

How could somebody go about approaching a colleague to have that conversation? What questions should they ask?

Gori Yahaya:

Sure. So let's say for example, you've got a colleague, you both work in a tech team and they've come up with an idea or proposal or something that you could do working together. I would say I would approach it being in a positive way.

I love what you were working on or I love how you approached this. I'd love to have a conversation about what brought you into the job that you're in right today. Let me know a bit more about your career path. I'm keen to learn the journey you took to get to where you are today.

I find it really interesting. I think we all have different career paths. I'm really glad you asked that because a lot of the things that we do when we build our programmes focus on conversational frameworks to make it easy for you to step into conversation, but also making it feel like you can own the authenticity around it. If they haven't proposed an idea or whatever, you just wanna have a way in.

Again, people always are happy to talk about their journey. Come with an empathetic approach, wanting to learn and say, look, I'd love to learn a bit more about your journey, because then it'll just broaden your mindset to what other people have gone through to get to where they are today, and also where they're going as well.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Fantastic. We've got feeling inspired and now feeling connected to your colleague and opening your mind a bit more. How about three months? How can we convert these initial steps into real action and hopefully lasting action in three months?

Gori Yahaya:

If you are in an organisation that's running any kind of initiative around inclusion, ensure that you either signed up to it or you're taking more of a hands on approach to it.

Again, depending the organisation, if you're in one where there's nothing going on and you are a bit concerned about that, have a chat with somebody in HR or within DEI that exists within your organisation to see if there's anything in the pipeline that you can get involved in or something that they potentially are thinking about that you can help them get started.

I think we're seeing, not a slow in momentum, but definitely a lot of organisations are trying to really get under the skin of why they aren't seeing the progress, because they're really needing that progress soon. We need more people asking questions of, how can I help? How can I get involved with it? How can I help you build the culture you're trying to inevitably build?

From a practical perspective, in three months gives you fair amount of time to do it. But I would say go to your HR go to DEI and put your hands up and say, what can I do to further this mission and actively do so because trust me, I'm sure there's something that you could do that they would put your way to be able to get there as well.

I'd say have the awkward conversation the first three weeks, and by the first three months, try and identify who the person is that you want to speak to, but then also try and offer them an opportunity or offer them your support on this journey too.

Rebecca Donnelly:


What makes you optimistic? From what you've seen from the organisations you work with? What progress are you hopeful for in the next few years?

Gori Yahaya:

The last two years has really shown a light on the challenges and have people kicking to action in the space of inclusion more than ever before. The optimism is that you can drive that change when collectively, we all understand the challenge that we're facing.

The organisations are still keen to invest. There are barriers that we definitely need to tackle together, but what I'm quite optimistic by is those that are in either DEI roles or L&D roles in organisations, we're actually coming together to talk about how do we tackle this together. Especially around diversity, equity, and inclusion within learning, I think that's definitely an area where people are coming together more than ever before.

We've typically been in silos. We've just said, okay, I've been tasked building a learning curriculum around inclusion, where do I start? Then you just go do the research yourself when actually there are now more networks and communities, that I've actually been a part of and seen the way people are sharing knowledge sharing wise, to come up with plans and things together.

I'm optimistic the momentum will continue. I'm optimistic that organisations will continue to care about this and actually keep it up in that sense.

Rebecca Donnelly:

I don't want to take away from the optimism, but what about the pitfalls? What are the risks that you think that the industry's facing? How can we watch out for them?

Gori Yahaya:

Momentum is a risk. We don't want this investment inclusion to feel like the next shiny thing. When the pandemic hit, a lot of organisations were racking their brain as how they could support their employees more. Then we had the murder of George Floyd and all the other atrocities that happened around that time that organisations realised that they have lacked investment inclusion.

The stats around people leaving organisations, the stats around the challenges, getting into organisations, this is all becoming clearer and the risk is that organisations look at this and think, we haven't done enough in the last couple of years. Maybe we can't do anything moving forward or not enough doing moving forward and actually we just lose investment in this. That is a big risk and fact that it takes time.

An organisation needs to be absolutely clear that it takes time. A lot of the programmes that we work on are multi-year programmes. We are going to show progress over time if we get the metrics right and we can talk you through it. But for the most part, do not expect a change overnight.

Rebecca Donnelly:

And don't lose heart.

Gori Yahaya:

Don't lose heart, don't lose momentum. If you lose heart and you lose faith in your D&I team, that is really investing in this, they're banging your door for budget to be able to move forward and we're seeing that organisations are not treating this as a priority anywhere near the way they were a couple years ago. It's about keeping your commitments up because people in your organisation will see it. If they see that it's falling by the wayside, they'll leave and that's gonna cause you an even bigger headache.

So from my perspective, there are frustrations around the way people are investing at the moment. They can't see the end of the tunnel properly. I hope it doesn't hurt them where it typically does, which is in their pockets, you know, in the bottom line of the organisation because people are leaving and it costs a lot to replace 'em as well.

Fingers crossed, organisations will see that this investment, it's a long term investment and it will reap rewards at the end of it.

Rebecca Donnelly:

But it's a long term issue if people don't tackle it now.

Gori Yahaya:

Exactly. It just gets worse over time.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Where should our listeners go to find out more about Upskill Digital or how they might work with your organisation?

Gori Yahaya:

Head to www.upskilldigital.com. We have a lot of information about what we do there. Reach out to me if you want. [I have] lots of my members of team always shouting about the work that we're doing. We do elevate or get our organisations [ that] we work [ with] to elevate the work that we do together with them so that their industries can really take notice of how we can drive more tech talent into organisations and how we can keep the talent that's in organisations confident that the organisation is progressing and building more inclusive cultures.

I'm always keen to have conversations with businesses that are looking to drive that change and that are committed to doing it as well.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Fantastic. Thank you so much. That brings us to the end of this episode. I will wrap up by saying another big thank you to our guest, Gori Yahaya, and of course to all of you for listening. If you'd like to find out more about the Tech Talent Charter, or anything we've talked about on this episode, you can find us at www.Techtalentcharter.co.uk or on Twitter at @TechCharterUK.

If you like what you've heard, subscribe to this podcast on Spotify to be the first to hear about new episodes, and for more great insights from our incredible guests. I'm Rebecca Donnelly. Please join me again on in:tech the diversity and inclusion podcast from the Tech Talent Charter.