I went to school in England. Other than a couple of big football teams, most of my friends thought of Scotland as being about oil, whisky and rain. Even today, many people don’t think of Scotland’s business community as being anything other than dark liquids or old, dirty metal-bashing or extractive industries. It’s like the Silicon Glen never happened.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and Scotland has a thriving, innovative technology community. From the Unicorns of Skyscanner and FanDuel to bleeding-edge start-ups at CodeBase in Edinburgh, it is a sector to be proud of. It creates jobs, wealth and leaders in global technology. It is supported by world-class academic institutions that produce highly educated graduates for the work force. They also support and spin out technology businesses: the University of Edinburgh has an enviable track record for incubating start-ups.
If you talk to most C-level and HR executives in technology about their plans to grow their businesses and the threats to that growth in Scotland as well as elsewhere in Europe and the Americas, a common theme is the difficulty in finding the right people. A business with good technology and products can find growth funding relatively easily. The infrastructure in Scotland is good. All of the things necessary to enable rapid growth are in place. It’s the shortage of talent that is the main threat.
At a recent Skyscanner SMarT Conference, Scottish Equity Partners’ Managing Partner Calum Paterson said that, “(the) most important criteria in what we do and back is the quality of the team”. It’s about people: the quality of the management team and the people underpinning the technology and products being brought to market. Google’s Scott Friesen has spoken about the acute need to encourage and develop talent. Google has made a significant investment in Digital education through Google Growth Engine, Digital Garage and regional hubs to support start-up ideas and people.
In 1997 the consulting firm McKinsey produced the seminal “The War For Talent” report. It was a pretty neat piece of horizon scanning. They identified a shortage of skilled workers equipped for the digital global economy. They predicted that this would continue to be a major ongoing challenge for businesses. 18 years later and we’re living in that reality.
A while ago, I wrote a piece for LinkedIn Pulse called "Why No-one Wants to Work for Your Firm” (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-no-one-wants-work-your-firm-kenny-mcallister). The headline is deliberately provocative and attention grabbing. In the piece I identified some of the causes of the talent and skills shortage. Additionally, I highlighted some of the barriers Scottish-based technology firms faced securing the best talent for their jobs. Some of these are problems they create themselves. It comes from a combination of factors.
And here’s the killer; having a poor hiring process. This includes recruitment portals that ruin the candidate experience, damages the employer brand and puts people off applying for jobs. Similarly, firms lose potential hires due to long delays in responding to applications, too long between interviews and over-interviewing candidates with too many meetings with too many people involved.
Other factors that cause firms to lose out on hiring valuable talent are poorly defined job specifications, badly written advertisements and working with the wrong recruitment partners. And the old, slightly combative approach to hiring based on the rather arrogant view that people should be queueing outside your office door to be interviewed, or that your company brand is enough to attract hundreds of applicants doesn’t work anymore. If this is your firm’s approach, you’ll reap what you sow by having a hard job getting the best and brightest to apply for your jobs and to actually accept your job offer.
Chris van der Kuyl, Chairman of 4J Studios (Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto) has said that, “…big corporate don’t like disruption. They say they do, but they don’t”. This is very relevant to talent acquisition and hiring to grow your business. Cranking out the same old job specs, job adverts and briefing multiple recruitment companies “to cover the market” will lead to a poor talent pipeline and wasted management time and money. If you’re only willing to hire like-for-like and ignore transferable skills, aptitude and attitude in candidates, you’re fishing in a small and shrinking pool of talent. If you’re only willing to hire people from just around the corner, well; good luck with that.
It’s not all doom and gloom. No matter how small or how big your firm is, you can take positive action to win your own ‘War For Talent’. There need not be a big financial investment involved; it’s usually about your willingness to implement change, your outlook, your processes and your people. It’s also about the channels you use to attract talent.
Social media, job boards and trade/technical press are all obvious routes to find talent. They’re effective if used well. If you work with recruitment agencies please treat them as partners and valued advisors. Don’t treat your recruiters as part of a ‘master and slave’ relationship. If your recruitment agents can’t add value with true advisory and consultancy, sack them. You don’t have to work with my firm. There are good recruiters out there who know what they’re doing and provide more than a CV forwarding service.
Hiring and retaining the best people in technology is not going to get any easier anytime soon. This will be the same for large, multi-national brands as well as smaller, challenger businesses. If you carry on recruiting like it is 2008 you’re going to lose out on the best people and your business will suffer. The good news is that there are things you can do today to change how you approach hiring, how to enhance your brand as an employer of choice and reduce the cost and time to hire. Another benefit of hiring the best people is that the best of your existing staff are more likely to stay if they’re surrounded new, bright colleagues. Attraction and retention go hand in hand.
Written by Kenny McAllister of Aspen Solutions Ltd
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