Five non-traditional talent pools that will help CIOs plug skills gaps

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Posting date: 27 July 2023

With 70 per cent of organisations struggling to keep up with the pace of change due to a skills shortage, digital leaders need to get creative with filling those gaps. Lily Haake, Head of Technology & Digital Executive Search at Harvey Nash and George Lynch, Head of Technology Advisory at NashTech share their thoughts in this article, which first appeared on ComputerWeekly.com.

The technology market continues to be hampered by severe skills gaps and talent shortages, a problem which shows no sign of abating. In the 2022 Nash Squared Digital Leadership report, 70% of digital leaders said skills shortages are preventing them from keeping up with the pace of change. Everything from data analysts to cybersecurity specialists and technical architects are in short supply and in high demand.

There are many facets to a successful talent recruitment strategy – attractive remuneration, flexible working arrangements, a strong brand, and a clear and compelling employee value proposition – but another key aspect is who you target. We would argue that exceptional times mean CIOs and other digital leaders must look beyond the traditional, established intake groups and channels. Fishing in non-traditional pools needs to become an integral part of the talent strategy.

Here are five non-traditional groups/approaches that we believe are rich in potential, along with our thoughts on how to access them, based on what we are seeing amongst our clients in the market.

1. Recruitment remotely from overseas

In the post-Covid, hybrid working environment, a new truth is being established: anyone can work for anybody from anywhere. Last year’s Digital Leadership Report established that this has already become a pattern – a quarter of UK organisations said that they had begun to recruit people based abroad. It’s an extraordinary thought that you may have people who are part of your team that you’ve never physically met – but it’s a reality today.

Talent sourcing from overseas is no longer a cost-driven decision, but rather a simple matter of availability. We are seeing evidence of this growing trend in the tech sector, with Home Office data recently showing that the number of applications for new skilled worker visas and visa extensions for programmers and software developers were up 36% in the third quarter of 2022 compared to the first quarter of 2021.

If the talent exists in another market, why not bring it on board? Employment law and regulation can be a barrier in some cases but is rarely insurmountable.

Accessing this talent is partly about finding a way to recruit with a global reach and mindset, and clearly, partners who have an international presence can help here. It’s also about taking advantage of today’s ‘global village’ – people are more connected with other people through social media and networking sites, so take advantage of that through contacts, recommendations and targeted outreach.

2. Automation and generative AI

If you can’t find the people, could a machine do it for you instead? This may apply more to processes than whole roles, but what we’re seeing amongst technology teams is that they are eager embracers of generative AI in particular to help them do more with less, more quickly.

In the tech team context, it doesn’t directly replace the need for people, but it can help them become more productive. This can have a longer-term easing effect on the recruitment challenge – instead of bringing in three people, maybe one person with expertise in using generative AI will achieve the same results? And that person can then help upskill the rest of the team so that they can harness it too.

As a digital leader, make sure you’re actively exploring the possibilities of ChatGPT, Microsoft 365 Copilot, Github Copilot and the proliferating array of generative AI tools coming onto the market. And don’t forget ‘traditional’ automation too – you’re used to helping the business automate its workflows and processes, but are you turning the lens onto your own function as well?

3. Low Code/No Code

It’s a simple equation: moving more technology onto low code/no code platforms will mean that fewer human tech skills are required. Rather than a software engineer, for example, a technical business analyst may be able to use a drag-and-drop platform to build an app themselves – perhaps with some extra support around specific aspects of security and data.  

It’s fair to say that low code/no code solutions are often regarded with some antipathy by traditional engineers and coders. Leaders need to be sensitive to this. But it feels like we have reached an inflection point. There is undoubtedly a middle ground where it can be exactly the right solution – and one that helps manage down the skills shortage pressure.

4. Cross-training and returners

The problem is not that talent has disappeared – it’s how to access it. It’s essential to keep your intake channels open to as wide a range of sources as possible. Graduate intake is obviously key for some organisations, but less traditional mechanisms such as apprenticeships and programmes specifically geared to attracting more diverse talent are gaining huge traction.

It’s also about recognising talent and ability at every stage of the career lifecycle – returning mothers, for example, and older workers looking to get back into the workforce. Don’t overlook the ‘double deeps’ either – people who are already working for you in one role, who worked in a technology role earlier in their career. They may need some support and upskilling, but there could be a wealth of technology talent hiding in plain sight.

There are providers that can set up and run targeted talent intake schemes for you at pace. For example, Black Valley who specialise in recruiting black heritage tech talent in London, while at Harvey Nash a number of providers are supporting us with our own hire-train-deploy scheme, NextGen, which will launch next month. Meanwhile, there is a plethora of jobs boards focused on specific groups such as returning mothers. Understand what’s out there and develop your strategy to leverage it.

5. Outsourcing

Outsourcing is not a ‘new’ tactic by any means – but it is changing. Whereas it used to be primarily about handing over a brief for a product or service and letting it run, we’re seeing organisations looking at their outsourcing providers very much as an extension of their own teams. It is less a case of ‘them and us’ now, and more about finding a service provider that supplements the team’s available talent and resources. You could almost say that outsourcing has become more like insourcing now!

As a digital leader, ask yourself whether your outsourcing arrangements are helping strengthen your talent position rather than merely providing an arms’ length service. Is it enabling a process of co-creation?

These are five non-traditional talent pools that we regard as key – but arguably there is a sixth, too: not doing a project. Key here is discussing the resourcing strategy of potential projects right up front, even before the project is signed off. What technically might look good on paper will stay there – on paper – if there is no one available to build it and often, deciding not to pursue a project or implementation where there are skills gaps is simply the more pragmatic and productive option.

Or, alternatively, choose a technology that might be a slightly less bleeding-edge solution for which you do have the skills required

Talent is an ongoing challenge and there is no ‘silver bullet’. But widening your perspective has become an indispensable part of the solution. Think about a broader set of talent groups and, with your recruitment provider, work out the most effective strategy to reach them. Think too about how you can make emerging technology work harder for your own team. These measures won’t solve the problem on their own – but they could have a significant positive impact.

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