How to Recruit and Retain Digital Talent

  • Paul Vitic
  • June 21, 2022

Digital professions are more in-demand than ever, and that’s not about to change. As the CTO at COMATCH, part of my job is to help our businesses formulate strategies to attract, find, and recruit top talent to fill high-skill digital positions.

However, the marketplace is changing. Various new trends and cultural shifts have led to a demand-heavy market. As a result, there is an urgent need to develop new and improved recruitment strategies to overcome these obstacles.

Below, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned over recent years that have helped us cope with this wave of change.

Challenges in the Recruiting Space

Recruiting digital talent is one of the main problem statements facing engineering managers. However, it has become even more challenging in recent years due to a shortage of digital talent, especially throughout Europe. McKinsey estimates that the EU-28 public sector has a shortage of 8.6 million skilled individuals. Nearly 5 million of that figure is directly related to digital skills.

As businesses are trying to reclaim lost ground and ramp up operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that loss is being felt more poignantly.

According to the laws of supply and demand, this has shifted the negotiating power in the workforce’s favor. Skilled employees are demanding higher salaries, changing jobs more often, or simply resigning. This has harmed retention rates at a time when businesses are already feeling the impact of inadequate supply for their demands.

The fundamental driver that makes hiring digital talent today challenging is the lack of skilled workers to fill the gap. However, several other undercurrents are feeding into the current issue, particularly for smaller teams and businesses.

The first is simply an inability to keep up with the continuous demand for higher salaries. I have witnessed some people leave one company to dramatically increase their salary within five to six months. This is an unsustainable rate for smaller companies where budgets are often tight.

Secondly, engineers and product experts must have a clear career progression roadmap. This can be more difficult to provide in a small-to-medium company with a flat managerial hierarchy than in larger organizations. 

Another trend that the COVID-19 lockdowns have accelerated is that of remote or hybrid work environments. You now see many more prospects demand hybrid or fully remote positions. That’s reflected in the stats, with 74% of workers expecting remote work to become the standard and 97% not wanting to return to the office full-time. However, some companies are not able to offer the workplace flexibility many are demanding. 

Finally, not having a well-defined and designed recruitment process can be another stumbling block. Because of its technical nature and how varied the digital field is, there are some unique challenges when it comes to finding and hiring a skilled individual who is also the right candidate for the job.

Finding Top Digital Talent 

In most cases, I found conventional channels to be the most effective. LinkedIn is still a valuable resource for quickly and efficiently finding and reaching out to a wide talent pool.

During the pandemic, there was a pause when it came to face-to-face events like job fares. However, these are now back up and running and remain an excellent opportunity to meet candidates face to face early in the process. Both parties can also accelerate the selection process by discussing available positions and opportunities.

Online or digital recruitment events are now more widespread and popular. This provides a nice middle-ground between LinkedIn’s convenience and some of the face-to-face aspects of conventional job events.

Regardless of what approach you take, now, more than ever, it’s essential to be proactive about how you source talent. So get out there now and start talking to digital talent. 

7 Tips to Attract and Retain Digital Talent 

Despite the challenges many will face closing the digital talent gap, there are many tried and tested ways organizations can help themselves recruit and retain top tech talent. 

First of all, the problem needs to be looked at holistically, from attracting talent to recruitment to retention. 

(1) Build brand recognition

Building a recognizable brand and solidifying your business as a prominent presence in the field is vital. Being recognizable will give you a considerable advantage, particularly in engineering and product development. Participation is critical – you may consider investing in open source projects or regularly hosting and participating in webinars.

(2) Encourage employee reviews

The workplace experience has become a make-or-break factor for potential job applicants, especially with demand outstripping supply. It would help if you made sure that current or past employees are ambassadors for you as an employer through effective employee engagement. Positive reviews on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, etc., can do a lot to persuade or dissuade job prospects.

(3 ) Offer competitive salaries

Salaries in the digital skills market are volatile and continuously rising. For candidates to take you seriously, you need to offer competitive salaries. If not above market levels, then at least on par with current expectations.

(4) Standardize the recruitment process

In such as demand-heavy market, even an unpleasant recruitment process can turn off candidates. So, you need a documented and standardized procedure that’s pleasant and lets candidates know exactly what’s expected of them. At the same time, having precise requirements will prevent your business from spending too much time and resources on unsuitable candidates.

(5) Foster a great culture

This ties in with branding in that you create an environment that candidates respond to positively. However, it also entails creating a safe space for a diverse group of people to participate in their own unique ways. You need to establish a culture that’s welcoming, where learning is encouraged, and where employees feel invested.

(6) Push career development

Companies must ensure well-defined career ladders are in place for various roles. And, if possible, personalize career paths to the individual. What are the expectations? What’s the next step? How do you get there? Also, how will success/failure/progression be measured? Employees want and need to know the answer to these questions ahead of time.

(7) Prioritize developer experience

For high-value positions, like engineers, you need to evaluate their day-to-day working experience. The idea is to remove unnecessary obstacles or frustrations from their jobs. This spans from an overcomplicated or malfunctioning system to mundane tasks or clerical work that could be automated/delegated.

There’s no doubt that managers face tremendous challenges in obtaining the digital talent needed to take their company and clients forward. The acceleration of trends thanks to the COVID-19 lockdowns combined with a global skills shortage has resulted in the perfect recruitment storm.

However, this is also an opportunity for businesses to rethink how they recruit new talent. Hiring top digital talent right now might feel like a war, but it’s one you can win with the right approach.

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