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5 things digital talent looks for

Written by Robin Knowles, Founder and CEO at Digital Leaders

This week we flipped the usual Digital Skills conversation on its head: how to get people with the right skills ready for work, by thinking instead about what the limited and hard to attract Digital Talent out there, is looking for when they are deciding where to work.

One of the joys of Digital Leaders for me is the Salon format. Thirty cross-sector, senior folk sat around a table, two lead discussants who are experts on the topic, doing 5 minutes each to get the conversation going, no PowerPoint, no one knows who will be there, Chatham house rules and you are connected via email after the 90-minute conversation and networking is over, so the true collaboration can begin.

So how do you attract the best digital talent? It turns out there are 5 things:

1. The role is one where they will learn – Digital Talent wants to be challenged, to learn new skills and by inference to work for someone who they feel will pass on their experience. To be given flexibility to get involved with work that excites them. When they stop learning they leave. This may explain why contracting and interim roles appeal to so many.

2. The role has a clear growth path – this is one that does challenge larger organisations where organisational structure and hierarchy can get in the way of merit-based progression and rapid restructures to meet need. This could explain why start-ups and SMEs are hoovering up most of the Digital Talent coming through.

3. The organisation has a vision and inspiring strategy – It would seem that the days of attracting talent simply by hiring a leading digital talent – step forward Mike Bracken for GDS in 2012 – are behind us and that digital talent is now more focused on their employers vision and sense of direction. One could argue that vision and purpose still needs to come from a great leader, but that they can now be digital or otherwise.

However, the steady trickle of talent to the CoOp, Mike Bracken’s new home, or to Doteveryone, Martha Lane-Fox’s new vehicle, does suggest the draw card of the truly big name when combined with their vision and strategy, still works if you have the budget.

4. Location – Locate yourself near a University or better still engage with them directly, its graduate and post-graduate talent as well as its teaching community. That’s how talent finds you, tries you out and you link into their alumni.

5. An inspiring job title – One of the joys of a startup or SME is the ability to make up or hand out exciting job titles, but even for a larger organisation a job title is worth a thousand words. It says where you are with your own digital transformation and where HR are at. Digital is about an orgainsational cultural change and the job titles you advertise tell the digital talent so much – good and bad.

So those were the main 5 things that came out for me, but interestingly there were two I was expecting and which did not emerge. These are two that are often cited as being a reason by employers as to why digital talent will not come.

The first is salary, which did not come up once. The second is the workplace environment. The former, well perhaps our talent was too embarrassed to mention it, but what about the latter?

Well I can say, having spent this morning at an emerging tech business in Birmingham, rammed to the ceiling with digital talent that no one was more shocked than me that it was hidden behind an old industrial façade, in a side alley where my Uber driver and I both agreed it must be the wrong address.

It was however behind its dilapidated frontage, focused on staff learning, growing fast, had a strong vision of going global and a palpable purpose to deliver economic and societal benefits. And perhaps finally to prove the point it was wedged in between 3 University campuses.

I didn’t ask people what their job titles were I admit, but it struck me that this was indeed a business attracting digital talent without needing to provide them with a trendy managed workspace environment.

So it seems there’s no need for the foosball and pool tables in your office after all, unless of course they are really only they’re to keep you happy too.

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