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How Can We Increase Qualified Applicants for WordPress Jobs?

Have you heard? There are jobs in the WordPress industry — lots of jobs and many different roles. See the job postings on the Post Status Job Board, WordPress Jobs, and even LinkedIn Jobs.  There are a lot of job seekers in the web development world. How are job seekers preparing for the workforce? What are employers doing to find qualified talent?

The future of WordPress is in the training. It’s time we consider wages and connect employers with training providers as we develop software and people. 

Adequate compensation is a problem for employers and employees alike

The strength of WordPress is its community. Even if you’ve never attended a WordCamp or participated in a Make WordPress team — which I hope you do — WordPress has been a lasting success because the community supports itself by sharing knowledge. As that happens, relationships develop alongside the software. 

Despite WordPress occupying such a dominant market share, WordPress businesses struggle to draw on a sufficiently large talent pool of qualified applicants to fill important roles on their teams. One reason for the lack of qualified applicants has to do with pay and benefits. The WordPress ecosystem is still catching up to the compensation offered to people filling comparable roles outside of the WordPress ecosystem. 

We need backward-compatible and forward-thinking solutions in the WordPress workforce.

Many companies within the WordPress ecosystem indicate they do not hire entry-level developers. Look at today’s job listings. Compared to senior roles, junior roles are hard to find. Skilled staff often work in advanced customer support roles with all the skills of a junior developer but for much less pay while seeking opportunities to take on development work. Support roles can be pathways to developer roles, but companies also could hire more junior developers. Hiring only experienced staff can save the upfront training for new talent but also lose the opportunity to form habits into the specific skills vital to your organization.

Another complex challenge in a global workforce is providing adequate pay and benefits across vastly different national economies. Workers tread cautiously through scenarios comparing their own pay to others in very different economic climates. Fair and competitive compensation is no small decision for business owners to make. Often, the more complex a global payroll becomes in a distributed company, the more human resources will need to hire additional staff to cope.

Acquisitions and marketplace needs are upping the game for human resources and job candidates

A surge in corporate acquisitions and mergers in the WordPress space reached a new peak in 2021. This trend is partly driven by big WordPress employers' need to acquire talent as well as products. What are the barriers to growing a deeper and broader talent pool? How can the WordPress community and employers help? What are the risks if they don't? 

Acquisitions can serve several purposes for the purchasing company. New technology and a solid user base flow to the new owners, but so does a team of skilled staff. Briefly scan the Post Status acquisition tracker. It will show you the companies that have been “acquihiring” or being acquired for their talent. 

Has your employer been acquired? Michelle Frechette has helped us consider, from the employee perspective, what you need to know and do in an acquisition. Being acquired can be a career-changing event for employees.

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Recently we've seen many startup WordPress companies mature along with the growing WordPress marketplace. Once small bootstrapped teams now have grown-up responsibilities like hiring skilled staff and paying competitive wages. Companies that previously could hire people with general WordPress user skills now have a more rigorous hiring process with heightened expectations about specific technical skills and experience. Enterprise-level agencies and larger product companies have staff dedicated to talent acquisitions, recruiters, and staff dedicated to the interview process. 

Relearning WordPress — again and again

The shift to block-based web development in WordPress, thanks to Gutenberg, has really brought forward the need for end-users and developers alike to relearn WordPress. For many, the classic editor experience, page builders, and premium themes have created an understanding of development and website creation that is increasingly obsolete. We now have a very different experience which we can opt-in to using as adoption of the block editor and full site editing increases.

Many long-time WordPress developers began by learning theme development on classic themes like Kubrick, starter frameworks like Underscores, and they could look to Hello Dolly to learn how basic plugins work.  As time went on, more options became available for advanced development in both WordPress and its product ecosystem. Blocks require developers to pivot to face a more JavaScript-oriented codebase. Theme template partials and unit tests are increasingly layered into our workflows. 

Newcomers to WordPress may not need to relearn some of these new knowledge areas. An entirely new generation of WordPress users will experience WordPress for the first time with the block editor in their posts, pages, paratextual content, navigation, and themes. How we build plugins for a block-based world will look very different than plugins that were created for WordPress in its classic editor days. These users do not need to unlearn older methods, but the barriers to entry may be higher and their learning curve may be steeper. Depending upon their careers, they may need to learn special methods for backward compatibility with older themes, plugins, and programming techniques. 

Many freelancers, contractors, and small business website creators implement and maintain a small amount of custom code to extend off-the-shelf plugins and themes to fit their clients' needs.

Today, any seasoned developers may want to yell “Get off my lawn!” or “Back in my day…” or “we always did it this way.”  I hold a deep appreciation for the contributions made and work put into our classic methods. I learned PHP because I wanted to register a sidebar with a widget in the Revolution theme before that functionality existed in WordPress. We don't need things to remain as they always were — or require new learners to struggle the same way we have.

We need backward-compatible and forward-thinking solutions in the WordPress workforce. 

Software updates drive the need for employee upskilling and training upgrades

In addition to new hires with in-demand skills who are at the beginning of their careers in WordPress, employers need to retrain existing staff to keep up with the ever-evolving methods and tools of the trade. Beyond the languages, frameworks, APIs, and core WordPress codebase itself, there are things like build tools and entirely new ways to host and deploy WordPress sites that emerge periodically. It isn't necessarily harder — but it's definitely not easier — to keep up than it used to be. 

Small business needs call for generalists

Small businesses running on WordPress often don't need people with deep technical skills. There is an entire ecosystem of website builders, integrators, implementors, maintainers, and marketing consultants who deliver, host, and support sites for clients with low or no-code solutions. Many freelancers, contractors, and small business website creators implement and maintain a small amount of custom code to extend off-the-shelf plugins and themes to fit their clients' needs. Liam Dempsey and Matt Medeiros have described this line of work as the domain of the “digital” or “blue-collar” “web” or “WordPress worker.”

That's not to say the blue-collar builder, WordPress freelancer, or generalist doesn't need to stay engaged with ongoing learning in their careers. They do. WordPress workers serving small business and agency needs must adapt to Full Site Editing, page builders, block-based themes, plugins, and blocks. They must not only excel in them as tools but learn to market and sell them to clients with their value-added services. The tools they use most commonly keep changing too, and lately the pace feels faster.

In addition to the skills required to host, set up, customize, and develop with WordPress, small WordPress business owners also need business skills! In enterprise-level agencies and product-oriented companies, executive and management roles are far more specialized. Within small businesses, one person may need to cover a wider variety of tasks, from marketing to finance, to some of the technical work.

Corporate needs call for specialists who are up-to-date

Chris Wiegman recently mapped out the technologies that developers frequently use today. It's quite a list. Learning WordPress and being proficient at your job aren’t easy things to attain. There are a lot of skills you need, from programmatic languages to build tools — and more. 

Adapting to the constant growth of languages and tools isn't a new challenge. Adjusting to Gutenberg and Full-Site Editing isn't even a new need at this point. Beyond WordPress, web development is rapidly adapting to shifts in technology as well.

In the sea of resources that exist for learning WordPress and web tech skills, learners are still expected to plot their own course.

Ongoing training for specialized areas of technical knowledge, staying current with the work happening in Gutenberg before documentation is available, and implementing what is currently stable are all vying for staff learning time and attention which puts them in competition with the business imperative of delivering quality products and services in a timely manner.

WordPress training lags behind today’s workforce needs

Surveying the landscape of training opportunities adjacent to the WordPress ecosystem is fascinating. Despite having such a vast market share, we have yet to land on a common set of competencies for the many different careers that exist in the WordPress industry.

In the sea of resources that exist for learning WordPress and web tech skills, learners are still expected to plot their own course. But what happens if you are still in the phase where you don't know what you don't know? What if you want a guide? It's really hard to figure out what to learn, in what order, and from what training providers. Training programs may also be struggling to know what you need from them.

The future of WordPress is in the training. It’s time we consider wages and connect employers with training providers as we develop software and people. 

Where do you turn to learn and relearn WordPress deeply? YouTube is filled with videos about WordPress, many of which are quickly outdated or biased vehicles for affiliate links. There are a few great books about WordPress development, but if that isn't your learning style, that too becomes a challenge. Courses exist, but without any standardization or accreditation, it falls to a few individuals to define training goals, standards, and priorities. Generally, these courses are not vetted by the industry itself.

To this point, people have been rather self-sufficient in acquiring the skills needed for jobs. High schools, career technical schools, colleges, and universities have incorporated WordPress instruction into their programs. Often, this reaches as far as installing and configuring themes and plugins while building a website. These programs often stop short of actual development, such as creating plugins, building blocks, or designing themes from scratch. 

In the developer bootcamp world, often it is assumed that PHP is dead and WordPress is easy to learn. Yet entire educational organizations exist to help prepare their students for work. Few bootcamps offer a focus on WordPress development, and yet they want their graduates to be adequately trained for roles in WordPress product companies. Often these programs are aimed at content marketers

Daniel Schutzsmith notices how little WordPress is represented in developer training programs.

What's to be done? What questions must we ask — and answer?

I have to wonder, what would happen if official guidance was available to such organizations? What might the job pipeline look like globally in website development if training providers knew exactly what skills are needed?

We badly need:

  1. Pathways for Learning — For the main types of job pathways, a sequential order for learning WordPress should be available. See the High-Level Roadmap.
  2. Learning Styles — Whether it’s a preference based in personal disposition, accessibility needs, culture, connectivity, or other factors, how people learn varies. Our training should cater to common differences to lower the barriers to entry. 
  3. Advisement — Employers in the industry can attest to the gaps in talent and areas where applicants lack adequate skills. As general standards for various roles become more apparent, training programs and learners have clearer goals. 
  4. Certification — There are many ways to attain the necessary skills for jobs. Some careers require degrees and certification. Many don’t need either. The purpose of certification is to define and verify key skill areas needed in the workforce. 

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Help us solve this puzzle together!

  1. Join the Make WordPress Training team. Contribute or revise content, collaborate on ideas, and develop the Learn WordPress website’s functionality. 
  2. Come to the WP Career Summit as we match employers, employes, and job seekers with training providers. 

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3 Comments

  1. Great piece, Courtney!

    I think back to my early career days and the various Microsoft certifications that demonstrated competency (or at least familiarity) with a subject. I would love for WordPress to have something similar — maybe a collection of smaller competencies, like basic/intermediate/advanced PHP, vanilla JS, REACT, MySQL, CSS, etc — to help standardize the skills desired for both employers/employees.

    LinkedIn Learning has developed learning journeys (a sequence of courses) that (theoretically) lead to competency as a “junior web developer,” “front-end WP developer,” etc. Additionally, badges/certificates are awarded for completion and displayed on LinkedIn profiles. While these are indicators are “better than nothing” for potential employers looking at a candidate, they lack any “official stamp of approval” from the WordPress project.

    To your point, “Courses exist, but without any standardization or accreditation, it falls to a few individuals to define training goals, standards, and priorities. Generally, these courses are not vetted by the industry itself.”

    I guess I’m not saying anything new, but rather acknowledging the validity of what you’re saying. 😂

    1. Thanks Carrie. Definitely on the same path in terms of thinking. I find very few training providers offering WP development, and those that do have no way to evaluate the material they implement for their programs. While many training programs seek to prepare participants for the job marketing, having little connection with employers to assess adequate skills leaves quite a gap still.

      I do love the training I got in LinkedIn Learning, but was unable to use it as a resource in the BootCamp where I instructed. Additionally, it needed more PHP for plugin devs than was at the time in the track. I’ve shared the feedback 😉.

  2. Hi Courtney,

    Thank you for crafting this post! When I have dipped my toes into possible new positions in WordPress product support, I was disappointed with the low compensation offered. I have been in WordPress premium theme and plugin support for many years, so it was somewhat of a shock. Many of the large employers, almost all being within the Post Status membership walls, offered starting hourly wages less than my local towns fast-food restaurants offered. Support is vitally important from pre-sales questions all the way to crisis shout-outs , with often the *ONLY* voice the customer encounters with the company. Is that really valued so low? Why? Company owners that do not see this as a priority may never know the revenue lost.

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