When the tipping point finally came for a mass exit from the UK workforce and beyond, not all companies suffered equally. We explore why some organisations have fared better than others during this unprecedented talent crisis.
Attracting and keeping hold of good people is clearly essential to a company’s success. Companies across the tech sector have experienced their fair share of setbacks during the pandemic. There was a brief window where the many contractors panicked and wanted to secure permanent roles to weather the storm of Covid-19, which meant companies could “kind of do what they liked in terms of attracting people”, says Paul Griffiths, Senior Business Manager at our parent company SThree, who oversees the tech, cloud and project delivery teams.
For the first time in around a decade in tech, employers had the upper hand, rather than the contractors – but the tables quickly turned, as demand for tech skills hit an all-time high. “Digital transformation is important to all companies, across different industries, but Covid-19 made it urgent, which fuelled the fire for tech skills,” says Griffiths. “So, all the people who were taking permanent roles went back into the contract market.”
As a result, instead of competing for candidates solely on price, many companies are now competing for skilled tech people on culture, lifestyle and work balance. In practice, it includes everything from implementing a four-day week to taking professional learning and development more seriously than ever. And it’s a mindset that has enabled some to thrive during these tricky times.
“It's really important that companies are competing for talent (both finding and retaining it), based on everything they offer,” stresses Griffiths.
So, what’s the word on the street about some of the steps being taken by businesses, across different sectors, that have successfully adopted a lifestyle approach to talent retention?
Of course, a major element is on-site versus remote working. Some tech roles are being offered as fully remote, and many candidates now expect it. “We’ve been recruiting permanent roles that are fully remote, which was unheard off before Covid-19,” according to Griffiths. But he says his teams still recruit for roles where a client will ask for that person to be fully on-site, with no real explanation as to why they need to be there. “
But in the jostle to fill positions and keep existing staff happy, is it possible to go too far the other way? Griffiths believes if there’s no office opportunity – ever – it’s often not beneficial. “It might suit some staff but a lot of people we’ve hired, who were fully remote, lacked any sense of work culture, team learning, osmosis [learning] and so on. So, I think you can take it too far with remote working.”
Fully remote offerings, even for tech roles in more traditional industries like law, are not uncommon either in 2022. Candidates might also find jobs advertised with on-site days ‘preferred but not essential’.
Companies across a range of industries are also willing to provide recognised IT courses internally, in a bid to upskill current staff, according to Griffiths. Some are giving less experienced candidates opportunities, due to the difficulties in hiring more senior tech talent.
Roles might also come with the option to buy or sell additional annual leave, one afternoon off a week or an early Friday finish. CSR days – time off work to volunteer – are a regular feature, too, and covering the expense of commuter travel is now popping up among the benefits.
Creating a learning culture
Of course, different perks suit different people. But one “intrinsic human value”, says Griffiths, is the desire to see your own career progression and development. Companies that create a genuine learning culture will offer a more positive employee experience and are likely to be far more attractive to potential recruits and existing staff. If a candidate sees a role advertised with the ‘opportunity to drive [their] own professional development, including training courses’, as one SThree client is doing, this is likely to be a real advantage.
Within the tech industry, “the real problem for companies is that the flavour of the month is very important to people,” says Griffiths, adding: “For example, if you're a software engineer, what you're worth in the marketplace is based on the skills you hold, but no one can predict the skills or value in the future because it changes so much.
“So, the nightmare for these people is that if you accept a job with a client and their technology isn't in line with what's going to be popular in the next couple of years, there’s a good chance you're not going to get the best salary or rate in your next roles.”
If a company has built in a certain technology stack in the past 10 years, for example, they might need to change it, just to attract people – which would cost millions. But the alternative is to pay a lot for certain skills.
One approach Griffiths has seen some companies take to try and counteract this is investing time in the working week for staff to dabble in whatever tech they want. In one company, every Friday afternoon software developers are given a series of small business problems to solve, and they can use whatever type of technology they want.
“They can download the latest crazy stuff and build business solutions for these problems in whatever way they like,” he explains. “With that on the CV, they can show they've used it in a commercial context and their value goes through the roof. So, it’s important for companies to show the ability to cater to these needs.”
Learning from your competitors
A final takeaway for employers within the tech sector who are struggling to secure enough skilled staff is to understand what other people are doing – “this is one of the key fundamentals,” urges Griffiths.
Networking events and talks are a regular feature within tech, he says, useful for everything from making new connections to finding new talent and promoting your own business.
But if a company is interested in how to solve some of the challenges around recruitment and retention, it’s important to use these events to “learn from your competitors”. It might be an obvious area to highlight, says Griffiths, but sometimes it helps to go back to basics.
If you are looking for the right person for a tech role, get in touch with us today.