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What digital talent looks for

Coeo’s head of digital transformation recently attended a roundtable hosted by the DigiLeaders organisation about “What digital talent looks for” – an important insight about how hiring new staff is changing.

Today, there’s a skills shortage. New companies need digital skills and now so do the previous generations of companies. Right now and over the next few years, businesses will have to change their focus just to remain competitive. Reputation, knowledge and experience only count for so much now. Demonstrating innovation and providing compelling customer experiences are increasingly what keeps them relevant.

The not-for-profit DigiLeaders organisation (link) regularly hosts leadership audience roundtable events on topics related to digital transformation and digital leadership – the people making this once in a generation change happen. Whereas its previous events have focussed on what skills employers need their new staff to have, this event turned the tables and asked what future employees look for when seeking work.

What are digital skills?

Soon after the session started, I asked how the group defined “digital skills” which led to a show of hands to see who had experience of the following examples of digital skills:

  • Coding (quite a few hands)
  • Graphic design (some hands)
  • Creating multimedia experiences (a couple of hands)
  • Gathering user feedback (some hands)
  • Using social media other than Facebook and Youtube (some hands)

There are of course many definitions of what digital skills are, the list above was just an example designed to show how broad the definition is.

Key observation: Digital skills are not the new name for tech skills or IT skills. People from tech backgrounds often have good digital skills or the right creative personalities to learn new digital skills. But a key observation needs to be that digital is not the new name for IT (or tech). For example, the specialist who redesigns the customer journey from store to web to mobile maybe a psychologist rather than a technologist.

What attracts digital talent?

People of any age can have digital skills – but what I learnt was that not enough school children, school leavers or university graduates are leaving the education system with the digital skills employers need. Experienced hires can adapt their existing skillsets to meet the needs of the digital era’s new ways of working, but unless the education system correctly prepares the younger generation, then we’ll end up with people who can’t find the work they trained for while employers who can’t find the staff they need.

Even for people leaving the education system with relevant skills or experienced hires with strong backgrounds, employers are still finding it hard to recruit. In such a competitive marketplace for talent, potential employees are able to choose which employer they work for based on a changing set of criteria. The next few sections share some of the experience that employers at the roundtable gained from their recruitment of digital staff:

  • Growth and learning – most businesses don’t expect their younger staff to stay in a role for more than 2 or 3 years. In fact, employers increasingly worry if someone has stayed in previous roles for more than a few years. However, digital talent looks for a role whether they can continuously see the value of their contributions increase and their knowledge broaden. That doesn’t mean promotion nor does it mean doing lots of similar projects for different clients. It’s about working in an environment where they might need to learn a completely new technology, business skill or creative design technique at very short notice. It’s about seeing the people they’ll be working with already living and breathing in this world.
  • Vision – In the same way that digital talent wants to see growth in their role, they want to see the company has an inspiring vision and is already on the path to meeting it. Some visions are as simple as “To help everyday people live simpler, more fulfilling lives.”, others such as Facebook’s is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Whether it’s an emotional or a functional vision, having one that a newcomer can see is already influencing everything the business does can be important.
  • Job title – you might be forgiven for thinking this is superficial, but no one wants to join a modern company but be given a job title from the 2000s, never mind the 1990s. The job titles staff are given don’t just show where the company is in its digital transformation but also the mindset of its leaders and HR departments. Small things, big differences.
  • Location – It’s easy to think that digital talent only wants to work in London and the mainstream media probably does little to remove this stereotype. The reality is that most “digital hubs” are often located near universities as it’s close links with them that help graduates find employment opportunities. In these situations, word of mouth through alumni and tutors can be more powerful than any recruitment fair. Wherever, they work they want to work where there’s a digital culture. No one wants to be sold a digital dream then work on an industrial estate. They want to be able to meet friends after work, go to nearby hackathons on weekends and feel a sense of collective identity when they walk to work.

What didn’t get mentioned at the roundtable may surprise some – salary and working environment. I suspect there’s a few reasons for this that the employers at the event take for granted. Everyone in the digital industry expects a “good” salary. There’s a skill shortage, so for people with the right skills now isn’t the time to be haggling over money. As for workplace environment, hopefully all of the points above show why. Digital talent wants to go to work to work, albeit exciting and interesting work where they can express their creativity. In the same way they expect a modern job title, they also expect a cool, modern and relaxed working environment (and yes it was confirmed that even the digital teams in banks wear jeans).

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