Senior Client Partner, Vice President, Projects, North America
This is the third and final in a series of articles covering a podcast from HRO Today on the intersection of digital transformation and talent strategy called “All ‘teched’ up + no place to go? Investments in IT infrastructure require the right people to succeed!” The podcasts are hosted by Elliot Clark, CEO of HRO Today, who is accompanied by Korn Ferry thought leaders Curtis Britt, Director, IT Services, North America, and Bridget Gray, Vice President, IT Services, Asia Pacific.
In the first podcast on the war for talent and digital transformation, the panel discussed the realities facing the technology labor market, both globally and locally, and the pressing need for companies to acquire new tech talent. In the second podcast on building a talent strategy for digital transformation, they discussed what companies are currently doing and how they need to pivot to long-term planning to prepare not just for today’s challenges but also for tomorrow’s. In the third and final episode, they recommended what companies should do to find the tech talent they need both for now and in the future.
Clark opened the discussion by asking, “The technology that students learn in school today will be obsolete in half a decade. So, what best practices should organizations follow to meet their current needs while identifying lifelong learners who can acquire the new skills needed as technology evolves in the future?”
The panel identified three key tech talent practices: changing how HR markets job opportunities, using technology to assess potential hires and recruiting candidates with learning agility.
How to market job opportunities to attract tech talent
Gray first noted the major shift in how HR and hiring managers go to market to attract tech talent. She explained, “Given how fiercely competitive it is now, we need to make sure that every part of the HR and talent acquisition lifecycle is a marketing exercise for a business. Because these technologists that we’re working with can vote with their feet, they have lots of opportunity. Their employer doesn’t want to lose them. And a lot of organizations that are still taking the approach of assessing whether people are good enough to come and work for their organization are probably missing out on the top talent that they could be getting.” Gray added, “That’s not just because that talent should be joining the business. Perhaps that person is not right for the company right now. But they might be in six months’ time. And guess what, then they won’t want to speak to that organization.”
Gray said that the market for tech talent is very small. Organizations have to be very deliberate about every candidate touchpoint. “I can’t think of a market where certain technologists don’t collaborate and talk about employers, coaches; everything,” he said.
Be deliberate about hiring processes for tech talent
HR needs to drive hiring processes for tech talent to ensure they are consistently selling the opportunity. That starts with organizations ensuring that their line managers are interviewing properly so they don’t turn prospective candidates off.
“If the organization decides someone isn’t the right candidate through further selection, then great. But at least they’ve had a good candidate experience, so they’ll go tell their friends what a wonderful opportunity it would be to work with an organization like that.”
The other key point for HR to consider is how critical it is to give people an opportunity to live up to the reasons that the organization hired them in the first place. Gray reasoned, “It’s important that we hire these people, but then we don’t squash them. We quite often go, ‘Okay, we want disruptive people, or we want curious people,’ but then we don’t allow them to do any of those things.”
So that means organizations need to do one of two things, according to Gray. First, companies need to hire the right people. Second, companies need to look for current employees who are hungry for information, knowledge and skills. Then employers need to give these employees the right tools. “You need to educate them, support them and put your arm around them, but then you need to get out the way. Allow them to move forward and show your business what they can do.”
Gray noted that right now, there’s a lot of hiring fatigue, and HR can support line managers by helping them share the right narrative with the market. That way, organizations can attract the biggest possible pool of relevant tech talent candidates. “With the right talent,” Gray added, “we’ve all got much higher chances of meeting our transformational objectives together.”
Use technology to improve the tech talent acquisition process
After echoing Gray’s comments about recruitment, Britt noted that recruiters can use technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to enable their work. Britt offered several examples of how technology can uncover more tech talent in the marketplace, including “leveraging of applications that allow you to crawl the web for profiles that aren’t necessarily just sitting on LinkedIn and accessing individuals through white papers and through sites like GitHub and Stack Overflow.”
With clients, Britt uses a Korn Ferry solution that assesses people’s traits, drivers and motivators, the internal mechanisms that make somebody who they are. The platform helps organizations assess and quantify the key hiring attributes that ensure a good hire. Britt said, “With this tool, you can ensure that the people you recruit aren’t just a good fit for you now, but they can be a good fit for you long-term because they have the mental makeup and wherewithal to deal with the ambiguity and agility that’s undoubtedly going to affect their role within the organization.”
Look for tech talent with learning agility
Once organizations have identified qualified talent, Britt and Gray both advised that organizations need to ensure that their prospective IT professionals and executives have learning agility. “The vast majority of strong technology employees are going to have an innate lifelong learning mechanism. The best technologists are the technologists who are always looking for the next technology, not being satisfied with just programming in Java. But looking at Go and seeing where that can help them or seeing where Python could potentially solve a problem for you.”
Gray concurred that companies in the Asia Pacific are also building learning agility into their hiring of tech talent and assessment models. “The hard skills and experience are a given with a lot of people that we present as candidates for hire to our clients. Those attributes can be evaluated quite easily through a variety of assessment tools. But we’re being asked more and more about the EQ and the more holistic individual, the behaviors, the traits, the curious mindset and that absolute hunger for knowledge. So that has certainly changed,” she remarked.
Learning agility is affecting not just the screening process but also the selection process. When technologists consider potential hires, they often end up interviewing, selecting or choosing somebody with lesser hard skills but someone who is bright, resourceful and curious.
That curiosity is especially important, Gray finds. “The function has a lot of churn because tech talent has lots of opportunities coming their way. But organizations that really invest in their people and engage with them on a learning journey have a much greater chance of retaining those people for the mid to long-term. And that’s what we need to do.”
Typically, employees in Asia Pacific companies stay in tech jobs for six to 12 months. That means employers are losing a ton of value. By the time new employees learn what they need to know to be productive in the company, they’re already moving on to the next opportunity. However, Gray observed, when organizations “invest, stretch, and challenge individuals and allow them to develop, they’ve got a better chance of them staying with us on that journey and adding a lot more value along the way. So, it’s important that we think that way.”
It’s time to start building the pipeline of tech talent you need for the future
Clark summarized how HR can spearhead technology organizations’ recruitment of top tech talent. First, HR teams need to make sure their organizations have a strong employment brand and that recruiters market opportunities accordingly. Second, HR needs to partner with IT executives. And third, organizations need to hire lifelong learners, so they’re ready and able to meet the needs of technology — and of the organization as a whole — despite change.