Talent strategy has emerged as a top priority for boards of directors and C-suite leaders after the events of 2020 and 2021. But even before those eventful years, tech talent was already a major challenge, one that has since been magnified by pandemic-driven advancements in technology adoption. Today, successfully recruiting engineers, programmers, data scientists, and other advanced technical workers is more important than ever, but also more challenging.
There are some opportunities, however, resulting from all the changes occurring in the world of work. The proliferation of remote work is enabling organizations to source candidates from a much wider pool.
“We’ve seen salary convergence, or the removal of location-based pay scales, for C-suite executives over the last several years,” Vivek Ravisankar, CEO of HackerRank, told Fortune via email. “This coming year, we will see the same trend pick up steam for individual developers’ salaries. The remote-first model and ongoing tech talent shortage will further drive this convergence…We have started to see this convergence taking place across the globe as well.”
Many other factors are widening the talent pool for tech jobs. It helps to look outside the halls of Stanford, MIT, and other “preferred” schools for early-career talent, as HackerRank suggests. Also, Microsoft, Google, Verizon, Salesforce, and PwC are among the companies that have launched programs for school-age and adult learners to pivot into the industry.
The additional strategies companies are using to meet their tech talent needs align with broader talent initiatives, such as upskilling existing employees, hiring contingent or freelance work, and improving the hiring process.
These changes have also presented new opportunities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, both in tech and in the corporate world writ large. With consumer, labor, and financial markets showing preferences toward companies that are diverse and socially responsible, leading companies are revising tech talent strategy with equity in mind—and boards will have a crucial role to play in aligning that strategy with their companies’ broader goals.
“I think this is an opportunity to really ensure that your talent brand is working for you now, and that it’s going to work for you in the future,” LinkedIn chief people officer Teuila Hanson told Fortune.
Here are the main ways this crucial sector of the labor market will look different next year.
Location independence and new talent hubs
Perhaps the biggest recent change in the working world has been the rising acceptance of telework for a lot of jobs that previously required employees to be present five days a week in the office. Tech jobs were already remote-friendly compared with other types of work before the pandemic, and today the labor market is saying it overwhelmingly prefers to work remotely. That means that a wide range of location considerations need to be top of mind for board and C-suite leaders as they continue to refine and devote more attention to their talent strategies.
Josh Brenner, CEO of Hired, a recruiting SaaS company, discussed a recent report with Fortune that said 90% of technical job seekers on his company’s platform are open to remote work, and an increasing number are only considering fully remote jobs. Brenner said this should help companies look for talent outside of major hubs like San Francisco and New York.
“Not everyone really wants to be living in one of these big cities or can even afford in the beginning to break into it,” Brenner said. “[Remote work] has opened up a lot of options for employers to just find the best talent and also to open it up to a more diverse set of candidates.”
Research from Tufts University highlighted six states—Georgia, Texas, Delaware, Virginia, Connecticut, and Maryland—that are the most promising places to recruit tech workers based on three criteria: the presence of Black, Latinx, and female STEM graduates; cost of living; and digital infrastructure. Separately, a report from Hired identified Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Chicago, and Toronto as the relevant tech talent markets where the average San Francisco–based salary goes furthest when adjusted for the city’s cost of living.
Brenner also added an observation that many of his peers in the space shared: U.S. talent is looking at international companies and U.S. companies are looking at international talent. This could have an interesting impact on U.S. work visa programs, as companies may not need to be as reliant on immigration to fill talent needs. Applications for the H-1B visa went down in 2021, but that was due to a number of factors including restrictions during the pandemic.
“We’ll see competition for R&D talent increase in regions outside of the U.S., especially in countries with overlapping time zones,” Mike Boufford, CTO of HR SaaS company Greenhouse Software, told Fortune via email. “With a bigger supply of lower-cost candidates outside of the U.S., the spike in domestic compensation we saw this year may not continue into 2022. I’m hearing from a number of peers that they intend to add geographies to their 2022 hiring plans.”
This geographic expansion will continue to raise questions about location-based pay. Tech companies hiring in San Francisco or investment bankers hiring in New York City have been paying a premium that’s a result of their home city’s high cost of living.
“This will have a noticeable impact on employees who have relocated or companies that have hired talent outside of commutable distances to the office,” Jon Stross, cofounder of Greenhouse Software, said. “They’ll be faced with addressing pay disparities based on local standard of living costs. Over the next year, I expect more clarity as companies have to declare where they stand on this.”
Hired’s report found that 74% of tech workers would start looking for a new job if their salaries were to decrease or if they would be denied an expected raise in the next six months.
Learning and development as part of the solution
The “build versus buy” argument that is commonly discussed in enterprise tech is also now a reality in the space of talent strategy. If a company can’t recruit enough people with the tech skills they need, why not look within the company to find people who can be taught these critical skills? Board leaders can help guide HR and business-unit leadership as they reexamine their talent strategy through this lens.
Internal candidates for upskilling into tech roles also offer the immense benefit of already knowing the operations of the company. This makes these employees strong candidates for leadership down the road. Developing internal candidates can also help diverse candidates overcome educational barriers to advancement and get them into the leadership pipeline.
One person whose career path exemplifies this opportunity is Joe Atkinson, chief products and technology officer of PwC. Atkinson has a finance degree and worked in the company’s core audit consulting function for over 20 years. He was always interested in tech and was an early adopter of the software available to auditors and consultants to do their jobs, which eventually led to his becoming head of the company’s technology, media, and telecommunications practice.
Atkinson then spent three years as the company’s chief digital officer before becoming a vice chair and chief products and technology officer in 2020. As he assumed the role of chief digital officer, PwC launched a massive, multiyear upskilling initiative around tech skills that included all company employees.
“What became really clear, given all the change that was happening, was that if we were going to be fair to our people, we needed to help them navigate what was happening,” Atkinson said. “Employers have to step in and provide pathways for people to grow the kinds of skills that are relevant today, even if when they entered the workforce…those skills weren’t necessarily as in demand as they are now.”
For companies that are not able to invest in large-scale programs, numerous online learning resources exist that are free or low-cost. Providers such as Coursera, Udacity, 2U (which recently acquired edX), Skillsoft (which recently acquired Codecademy), and others have seen explosive growth over the past two years. Many of their most popular courses are technology-related.
Another concept to consider in lockstep with internal upskilling is internal mobility. Often companies have policy and structural barriers that prevent employees from looking internally for new job opportunities. For a variety of reasons, people are also hesitant to look into opportunities outside their department. If companies can develop a stronger internal mobility strategy, it can create new career paths that help fill tech talent needs.
A smarter hiring process
The increasing competition in the talent market has forced corporate leadership to increase scrutiny of the hiring process. Leaders also are looking to improve diversity among tech workers, and are rethinking their processes with this goal in mind.
Operationally, companies with sophisticated talent strategies are now focused on candidate experience and emphasizing quality-of-hire metrics over speed-of-hire. On top of that, the pandemic has accelerated capabilities around video interviewing and automation at different stages of the recruiting process, and driven more specialization within the recruiting department.
“Companies are realizing that recruiting is a sales and marketing function [and] that hiring success, the ability to hire amazing talent at scale, is business success,” Jerome Ternynck, CEO of SmartRecruiters, a global recruiting software provider, told Fortune. “They put more marketing skills into the talent attraction function.”
For tech workers, soft skills are also becoming more important, Ravisankar said, given the rising prevalence of hybrid and remote teams. He also said the way developers prefer to be interviewed is changing.
“Traditional technical interview approaches will soon become a thing of the past,” he explained. “[Candidates] are more attracted toward those that explore real-world problems, challenges, and projects,” Ravisankar explained. “We will see a shift in interview structure and focus toward more real-world scenarios and challenges as hiring companies and teams adapt to keep up with developer demand and practical interests.”
Candidates also look favorably on transparency in the hiring process. This includes pay but also better guidance and communication at various stages, such as preparation for interviews or sharing company updates during the process.
“There’s really a demand from candidates on pay transparency,” Brenner said, adding that the Hired platform requires employers and job seekers to be open about pay at the beginning of the process. “For us, that is a really important principle, that companies and candidates lay those cards out on the table upfront.”
Board and C-suite leaders looking to improve their company’s talent strategy would be wise to look at the hiring process for key roles to make sure they are built with the candidate in mind, rather than the company’s convenience.
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