Winning the tech talent war

Jaime E. Love


Finding, hiring and keeping good tech talent isn’t easy. Leaders have known this for years but it remains true, and every year it gets a little bit more difficult. In the wake of a global pandemic and with constraints on skilled migration, it’s gotten a lot more difficult.  

Nowadays, all businesses need sophisticated technology professionals, not just tech organisations. This is especially true for those looking to drive a digital transformation agenda. But the labour market is tight, and those aforementioned technology companies are also hiring – often with a lot more on offer. 

To stand a chance at retaining or winning tech talent, businesses need to acknowledge who their real competition is and tailor their employee value proposition specifically for tech gurus.

The current situation

Tech talent was already in demand before the pandemic. With digital transformation firmly in the sights of CEOs, traditional IT departments were already expanding across organisations and industries, with remits covering more complex and specific areas such as cyber security, artificial intelligence applications and cloud. 

PwC’s 21st Global Annual CEO Survey back in 2018 showed that 75 percent of Australian CEOs were worried about skills shortages in the wake of digitisation. Surveyed in mid-2020, PwC’s Digital Trust Insights Survey 2021 found that for business and tech executives, cloud solutions, data management/data analytics and security intelligence topped the list of skills on the shortlist to hire. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this pace of change, with organisations fast-tracking digital transformation to allow their employees to work from the safety of home, and their customers to engage online with their businesses where they couldn’t before. 

In July 2021, 10 percent of the highest demand jobs on the National Skills Commission (NSC)’s Skills Priority Occupation List were technology roles.1 However, with borders only recently opened, foreign citizens returned home, and people wary of being trapped away from family and friends, outside talent is not rushing in as quickly as it once did. Additionally, after two years of hybrid or remote working, and a fair dollop of existential angst, what people want in a job has changed (as evidenced by ‘the great resignation’).2 As a consequence, salaries on offer and movement between organisations are at record highs.3

What to do – attract, retain, explore

So how can organisations position themselves in a tight labour market? We see three main areas to focus on: 

Attract

  • Tailor to tech – Employee value propositions need to take technology talent into consideration – especially as competition is not with traditional competitors, but tech companies. What are those organisations offering technology staff? Many will attract talent with the promise of complex technological challenges to sink their teeth into, development plans, or space to innovate – such as in Google’s now infamous ‘20% time’.4 Additionally, tech firms often offer micro-credentialing, skilling and certifications as ways to keep talent learning and engaged. Research suggests that alongside competitive salaries, tech workers want to join organisations with modern technology such as public cloud and AI/machine learning.5 They also don’t want to spend months onboarding – quick to competency programs where techies can learn org processes and knowledge quickly to achieve engineering excellence in just a few weeks is another drawcard for tech talent. 

  • Adjust your benefits – IT people will want the same benefits everyone else wants – but with tech-specific nuances. For instance, work/life balance, which is key to everyone’s happiness, can be trickier for tech staff compared to your typical desk worker. If something critical breaks, it needs to be addressed regardless of the time of day. Deployments often need to happen out of hours. What’s on offer to make up for these inconveniences? Similarly, mental health support, could be especially important for staff stuck in front of screens all day. If offering remote work options (and you really should) – do you also offer the best, cutting-edge technology to enable your tech staff at home?

  • People power – Tech firms emphasise their culture and community. Will your hires have the chance to work with the best and brightest? Do you have diverse hiring practices that will be attractive to international talent and increase diversity of thought? Internal tech networks, women in tech communities, and mentoring can help foster a sense of community and go a ways towards combating the perpetual and pernicious problem that nearly half of all qualified women drop out of the market after being exposed to toxic cultures.6 Relatedly, Is your business hospitable to family life? Daycare options could go a long way to attracting tech-savvy parents.

  • Pay to attract – At the end of the day, money talks and this is especially true for technology experts who can always get a higher salary elsewhere. Our What Workers Want report found remuneration and reward to be the number factor for employment consideration. If you have the capacity, pay for good talent. Money won’t help you keep talent by itself, but it can signal that you value the skills a candidate has. If you can’t pay, explore other options that allow your tech staff to have skin in the game – for instance, equity options or a percentage of profit on development projects that go to market.7

Retain

  • Hold on tight – In the current market, if you have already found gold in technology experts, do not let them go! In this year’s 25th Annual Global CEO Survey, Australian CEOs placed retaining employees who have been upskilled as their first and second highest challenges. The same things that would attract new staff should be preemptively offered to your current employees. 

  • Pay to keep – Your staff are keenly aware of the salaries and benefits on offer outside. With the cost of vacancy and time to competency high, if you can pay more, do so – but also think about things like retention bonuses if it comes to it. The cost of a bonus is nothing compared to having to replace staff.

  • Fix what’s wrong – Tech talent leaves organisations with bad leadership, bad culture and a lack of flexibility.8 If your organisation is suffering from these issues, consider the cost they are having on holding the business back from greatness and prioritise making changes. 

Explore

  • Outsourcing – For specific skills gaps, finite projects, budgets or fluctuating needs, outsourcing, or ‘rightsourcing,’ can be a great way to access onshore and offshore talent. Whether looking for temporary staff, contractors or gig-economy workers, there are any number of experts out there who can help out when you’re in a bind. Out tasking, where manual work tasks are outsourced to be automated is another option that will drive a continual benefit.

  • Offshoring – It’s not the dirty word it used to be, associated as it was with cheap labour. With sophisticated technology and communications options, virtual teams in other regions can boost your workforce, give support in different time-zones and provide uplift for on-shore staff to spend time on higher value work. 

  • Partnerships – For those organisations that are aligned on mission, purpose or other mutual interest, explore models to share talent or partner on specific initiatives by pooling resources to mitigate shortages. Additionally, think about partnering with education providers to build career pathways and entry level programs that will create an ongoing talent pipeline.

Hire-a-guru

Attracting any new employee is a matter of putting the person first. Instead of relying on hardworn tropes or potential stereotypes about what they want, put yourselves in their shoes – in the current market. The baseline of what makes a company a good place to work has shifted and benefits that were perks before are now seen as non-negotiables. Before ruling anything out, start with asking “how could we?”. 

With the ‘every person’ covered, level up your thinking to what makes a particular type of employee tick. Again, avoid generalisations, but don’t ignore the fact that some roles, such as tech ones, can be different in nature: physically, mentally or even socially. What makes technology employees want to turn up to work? What excites them? If you don’t know, ask them. Doing so will allow you to develop a tailored offering that stands out in a tough market dominated by the biggest, most innovative tech players.



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