The tech skills shortage is today's biggest bugbear for HR leaders and talent acquisition specialists both inside and outside the tech industry. It's not just digital acceleration, although that has definitely contributed to driving up the demand for people with solid tech skills; it's also border closures and the halting of international travel that's constrained companies to local talent pools. In some markets, such as Australia, where even inter-state travel has been locked down, the skills shortage is even worse.
People Matters asked Paula Kilby, Talent Acquisition Manager for customer experience automation platform Cyara, for her perspective of the current manpower squeeze in Australia in particular. Her take: constrained geographical mobility is the main issue right now.
“A big challenge is the decrease in skilled migration to Australia that has been brought on by COVID-19 travel restrictions,” Kilby said. “Even before the pandemic, the conditions for skilled migration – in terms of visas and government support – could have been more favourable.”
On top of this, she added, the rapid acceleration of businesses moving to the cloud, adopting digital technologies, and implementing agile methodology – heavily associated with software development – has made the situation worse.
So what works, in this kind of market, to find that valuable talent?
Quite simply, being pro-active about looking. It's no longer an employers' market where companies can expect good people to come knocking on the door; instead, it's the company that must go looking for them now.
“Our approach is to go out there and find the best people, rather than wait for them to come to us,” Kilby said. “Experience has taught us that, while not everyone is actively out there looking for a new career opportunity, many people are open to a discussion if approached in the right way. Often, we find an initial conversation turns into a longer and deeper one that allows us to understand whether their ambitions align with our opportunities. A meaningful and mutually beneficial candidate relationship rarely starts from a point of persuasion.”
The upside of this is that Cyara's talent acquisition team has become very good at what they do: the old “post-and-pray” approach, she told People Matters, doesn't work for them now that they've figured out how much better they can do it themselves.
“We rarely engage recruitment agencies anymore because our team has become proficient in active sourcing."
"We place a huge emphasis on candidate experience and believe the most authentic version of Cyara is created by those that live and breathe our company values.”
Kilby shared a list of the talent attraction and retention techniques that she and her team have refined:
Responding to all candidates, even those who aren't shortlisted: In Australia, Cyara is part of The Circle Back Initiative, an employer and recruitment agency-led initiative under which participants commit to respond to every single job applicant. Kilby and her team want all candidates to receive a personal response at every step of the hiring process.
“We believe it’s important to treat candidates how we would want to be treated,” she said. “Our hiring managers are trained in interview techniques and understand that providing adequate feedback is essential. From a candidate’s perspective, not receiving feedback creates a negative impression of a brand that they will likely share with others. Ultimately, we want people to re-apply for more roles in the future which may be a better fit for them. So, we do everything we can to create positive candidate experiences.”
Regularly reviewing internal processes and messaging: It's about making sure that you see through the candidate's eyes, Kilby said: “Rather than approaching recruitment from the perspective of what the business needs, we pivot to think like the candidate. By applying this mindset to each role individually we soon see where there are gaps for us to address.”
Heavily emphasising work-life balance: The tech industry, for all its glamour, is also known for odd hours and challenging workloads. But with talent as scarce on the ground as it is now, companies can't risk burning out their people – so Cyara's leadership team has been playing a major role in initiating and driving conversations around work-life balance and its sibling, mental well-being, in open forums. It's unusual in the tech industry, but very effective, Kilby said.
“Retaining happy and healthy employees is key to the success of any business, and it relies heavily on work-life balance. We’re not just talking about hours at work versus time spent at home with family, but really ensuring support around wellness and mental health is available to everyone, all the time.”
Lots of two-way communication: The open forums aren't just for work-life balance, Kilby said. “Our culture is flat, and team-centric, so we conduct open and honest forums amongst our employees and senior leaders, including our CEO. This promotes two-way communication that identifies what is needed and when. It’s how we constantly get better at talent retention and has transformed our approach to talent development.”
HR and talent acquisition really must have a seat at the table
“One thing became very clear during COVID-19; we were able to continue meeting the demands of our customers and our business targets because of our people. Looking after our teams and ensuring their health, happiness and progress is what ultimately enables our growth,” Kilby said.
There are a few pieces to this: firstly and most importantly, the HR and talent acquisition teams need to have a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion. Kilby singled out technology as one area where that voice really helps: just recently, Cyara automated its onboarding system, which was formerly manual, and got a strong positive response from new employees. “Tech plays a key role in sourcing good technical talent, but it also plays a big part in retaining it,” she said. “Investing in technology as an enabler to train, manage and help talent progress is of paramount importance at Cyara.”
There's also the strategic perspective: in the tough market, existing talent takes on increased importance, and Kilby and her team prioritise investing in internal development over external acquisition. “We always look within our teams for potential internal talent moves and promotions before we recruit outside the organisation,” she said. “Whilst we appreciate attrition does happen, it’s important to actively work towards reducing the possibility at every touch point. By constantly collecting and analysing data we can better understand the sentiment of the team and identify potential gaps before they start to take hold.”
“Ultimately, our goal is to care for our own from the very first day because our people are our number one priority.”