Nearly 40 percent of today’s IT jobs can be done without four-year tech degrees. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Tremendous technology advancements over the last few decades have created ample job opportunity – so much so that there’s a shortage of technology talent. Over half a million of today’s five million open U.S. jobs are in IT, more than any other major occupation.

With nearly every industry embedding technology into its daily workflows, tech talent is in high demand across the U.S. economy – not just from technology companies. In fact, two-thirds of the demand for IT jobs comes from non-tech industries such as health care, manufacturing, or banking. As a result, organizations from all industries are being pitted against one another in the war for talent.

While this is a scary reality for employers, it’s promising news for those looking to enter the IT field, whether they be recent grads or experienced professionals. Regardless of their previous experience, if what’s holding them back is the idea that they can’t break in to the field without a background or degree in the industry, they should dive in.

Nearly 40 percent of today’s IT jobs can be done without four-year technology degrees. The skills needed to thrive in a large number of entry- and mid-level IT jobs can be mastered by high-school graduates who complete accelerated technical training programs, online courses, coding “boot camps” and community college programs.

Unfortunately, traditional IT recruiting focuses on sourcing candidates with four-year technology degrees and, in doing so, eliminates many otherwise qualified candidates from consideration. The notion that a four-year college computer science degree is a prerequisite for success in IT is not only a flawed assumption but it dramatically limits a company’s pool of high-potential applicants.

The greatest opportunity for employers trying to win the war for tech talent lies in where and how they source it. In order to fill the IT jobs they have available, employers need to revamp their recruiting efforts and make it easier to hire from nontraditional pipelines. If they wish to maintain a competitive advantage in the IT job market, employers must plan for, attract, assess and develop candidates from nontraditional talent pools.

A partnership, like the one MasterCard has formed with St. Louis-based LaunchCode, is a good illustration. The partnership introduces MasterCard to highly talented local job seekers, both with and without traditional credentials. Candidates screened by the nonprofit are presented to the organization, which then has the option of hiring the candidates or offering them a trial period as paid apprentices. LaunchCode provides candidates with the tools and platforms they need to demonstrate their qualifications on the job. Through this partnership, MasterCard gains skilled IT talent and LaunchCode places emerging tech talent into rewarding positions.

In addition to increasing the supply of candidates for open IT roles, companies that hire tech talent from nontraditional backgrounds are also improving retention. In fact, a Catalyst survey of Fortune 500 companies found those that hired candidates from nontraditional pools experience a 45 percent reduction in unwanted attrition compared to those that use traditional hiring methods. It should go without saying that the companies getting the greatest return  are those that provide ongoing training.

In short, the best companies are doing four things to expand their IT talent pool:

1. Generating awareness and support for hiring from nontraditional sources
2. Developing a pipeline of applicants from those sources
3. Assessing for fit rather than credentials
4. Providing ongoing training and development

Technology is a critical component of how work is done today and how companies stay competitive. Because of this, IT talent will continue to become even more important than it already is to business success. But by only searching for candidates with four-year IT degrees, organizations will not find the talent they need. By casting a wider net and shifting their IT recruiting practices to include more candidates from nontraditional backgrounds, companies can find the tech talent they need while they simultaneously facilitate more employment opportunities for deserving individuals and advance the economy as a whole.

Talent Matters is a monthly column from CEB, a Rosslyn-based corporate research and advisory firm. Jean Martin is CEB’s talent solutions architect.