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Hiring the best digital talent — when you’re not a digital company

How do business leaders without digital skills grow their digital teams?

Hiring top digital talent is one of the biggest challenges companies face today. According to a recent Gartner survey , IT executives cited talent availability as the main adoption risk factor for almost half of digital workplace technologies. This is an especially tricky issue for companies that are not in the digital space. They may lack the glamour and appeal of Silicon Valley, but industries like healthcare and life sciences need top digital talent just as much as tech unicorns do.

The pandemic forced the acceleration of digitalisation for many industries, including healthcare, where lockdowns and social distancing forced more patients online for their medical services, and the nascent telehealth sector creaked under the pressure. Now, many companies with scant experience in increasingly complex IT systems are being forced to grapple with technologies such as cloud and artificial intelligence to make their businesses more accessible to customers.

Recruiting digital talent has become a pressing need for non-technical companies with minimal capacity to manage it: Even with an unlimited budget, how do business leaders without digital skills recruit and retain the right digital talent?

In this article, we discuss the key steps such firms must take to secure the talent they need to scale and succeed into the future.

Define the skills required

Companies successful at building their digital teams launch their efforts with a clear vision of the precise technical skills they need to create value for their specific business. This granular approach involves assessing relevant trends and identifying the appropriate skills required at the level of detail necessary to pursue the right hires and design relevant training programs for existing staff.

With a well-defined vision of current and future talent needs, companies can target their approach to building their digital teams. Most importantly, they understand that it’s unrealistic to assume they can hire everyone they need; a key part of the digital talent building strategy has to be training, upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce. Indeed, some 82% of global executives expect that at least half of their skill gaps will be filled through reskilling and upskilling.

Having reviewed their requirements for digital talent, some companies may conclude that their best approach is not to hire the talent they need but to partner with a digital company. By relying on a suitable partner, they can achieve the results they want without having to invest in a full-time team.

Create a profile that will attract them

It’s all very well perfecting a list of the digital skills you require to meet your business needs, but how do you go about securing them? Offering a competitive salary and benefits is a start, but the digital talent you are pursuing wants more. Companies need to be creative in presenting themselves as genuinely different to their rivals if they want sought-after candidates to see them as a viable alternative where they can be appreciated and do meaningful work.

For healthcare companies, for example, that could involve communicating the value of the work new digital talent will be working on, emphasising the bigger picture of how their efforts will help improve patient outcomes. Non-digital organisations may feel at a disadvantage in the competition for digital talent, but they need to reframe their approach to highlight the aspects of their work that will appeal to candidates looking for something more than a big salary.

Widen the digital hiring net

Competition for talented digital professionals is intense, so business leaders need to take a step back and think of creative ways to find the skills they need. This applies not just to the spaces they use to find talent but also to the types of candidates they target. Looking internally, leaders should seek out talent with key digital skills across functions, particularly non-IT functions.

When considering external sources of talent, they should look at alternative avenues such as hackathons. Or they could take a leaf out of the Danish advertising agency Uncle Grey’s book and explore the world of online gaming. When it could not find the frontend developer talent it needed using traditional routes, it successfully took its recruitment campaign into the gaming space, striking a sponsorship deal with the most popular Team Fortress 2 clan, which became the voice of the Uncle brand, putting posters titled “CodeWarrior Wanted” inside the game.

Organisations need to find out where the talent they want spends time and grab their attention there.

Nurture a culture that retains talent

The job is not done once a candidate is hired. The demand for top-end digital talent is so great that the company must sell itself on an ongoing basis, ensuring that the promise of a fulfilling role is not illusory. If your new hire believes they will be working on solutions that improve the outcomes for patients, for example, they must see continual proof that their work is meaningful.

Talent retention demands commitment to a strong value strategy that is communicated not only in lofty mission statements but in practical ways, through the projects the company delivers. It should be clear from the work a company delivers that it is dedicated to solving real problems, and that its talent is pivotal to those solutions.

It is particularly important for non-digital companies to demonstrate to their digital staff that they are committed to supporting their work. They can do this by reducing the number of meetings and perceived corporate rituals these staff are expected to attend and implementing the kind of modern tools and frameworks they need to do their best work.

Offer remote working arrangements

The forced remote working experiment has made many people appreciate a working life that does not involve long commutes to HQ and gives them control over their work environments. Efforts to wrest that control from them now that the pandemic is easing are encountering resistance: A move by Apple to return employees to the office and a similar push by Google have not been well received.

With remote working now a prerequisite for so many workers, ensure you are not removing yourself as an option for increasingly mobile talent: Make remote a key element of your working arrangements.

At NearForm, we have maintained a remote-first approach since our establishment in 2011. This was a deliberate decision on our part, and it has been a key draw for our talent. Instead of making ill-defined plans that allow staff to work remotely or in the office on an ad-hoc basis, organisations need to create a vision of the kind of work culture that best suits the organisation and its objectives while encouraging talent to join — and stay.

Provide ongoing internal training and progression

The dearth of key digital talent provides an impetus for organisations to look within. A logical step is to provide opportunities for existing staff, and that is why 42% of companies say they plan to launch upskilling or reskilling initiatives among current workers. By designing learning journeys to upskill and reskill current roles to the roles the company needs now and into the future, organisations help to shore up their resources to prevent skill shortages.

Hiring adaptable digital talent is key to ensuring that the learning environment you create delivers. Candidates who make deliberate efforts to keep abreast of changes in their field will be prepared to learn and adapt as new skills are required. Technology is never static, so, instead of hiring for specific credentials and skills, organisations need to hire for people who can learn skills.

With these kinds of adaptable team members in place, it is crucial to give them time to learn new technologies and experiment with them, as well as career plans that accommodate adequate learning opportunities.

Be the non-digital company with the best digital hiring strategy

The hunt is on for talent that will give companies the digital advantage they need to keep their customers coming back — and for companies with little or no expertise in the increasingly complex world of technology, the experience can be intimidating.

Even with generous recruitment budgets, it can be hard to hire when you don’t really know what you need. However, by drawing up a definitive list of the skills required to achieve business goals and presenting an attractive profile, companies can embark on creative hiring processes to bring in the talent they need.

Cultivating an environment that encourages workers to stay and offering remote working arrangements and ongoing training and progression opportunities will help to keep that talent happy. Organisations must be prepared for employee turnover in such a competitive sector, but with the right recruitment and retention strategies, even the least digitally savvy business leaders can offer an attractive alternative for elusive digital talent.

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