Can your second choice for a technology specialist be the right choice?

By Robert Half 22 October 2018

Across Australia, many businesses are struggling to find, hire and retain highly-skilled technology specialists.

The rapid pace of technological advancement, a shortage of highly-specific and relevant skills, and often, a lack of budget with which to secure top candidates means employers have to reassess who they hire when building capable IT teams.

In some cases, this can mean choosing a second choice over a first choice.

Bryn Nicholson, Digital Marketing Director at Yellow Brick Road Holdings, is acutely aware of the challenges employers in Australia face:

“In this sector, something that was good enough five years ago is no longer good enough. Customer expectation is increasing, the timeframe you have to deliver to them is decreasing, and the budget is usually fixed. There’s a need to deliver more with less, and sooner,” he says.

So how are businesses across the country responding to this challenge?

Technical qualifications are not the only factor to consider

For starters, hiring managers are getting creative, and looking deeper into the value that potential candidates can bring to their organisations.

In a market where top talent with the desired technical skills and experience are out of reach, employers are instead seeking out qualities vital to business success and sustainable growth from other candidates in the market.

Nathan Alexander, the Chief Information Officer of Seafolly, has turned his attention to soft skills. Finding a technology specialist who will fit in culturally, can work with a team, and who can communicate to senior stakeholders is critical, he says.

“You may have someone who’s very technically capable, a developer for example, and they may just want to develop and be left alone. Whereas, in this day and age, I think you’ve really got to have a more rounded set of skills,” states Alexander.

Nicholson agrees, saying the remedy to the challenges of hiring in the IT sector today is all about building teams with a combination of skills.

“It’s a strong statement, but I think the only way you can really be effective in delivering high-quality, rapid implementation of systems or products, is to build project teams that combine some relatively hard-to-find specialised skills, along with the right people from inside the organisation. That formula is important,” he says.

Nicholson contends that a mix of skills from both inside and outside an organisation help build the strongest and most effective teams. In his experience, these teams also succeed in improving the drive and skills of existing employees. Together, “people gain momentum and become more valuable contributors than they’ve ever been,” he says.

Finding a technology specialist with the right skills

In this persistently competitive environment, how do employers identify the skills in other potential candidates they know will work for their organisations? What should their strategies be when top talent aren’t an option?

“I’m always looking for communication skills,” says Nicholson. “This is the number one attribute for someone who’s going to work in a successful team. Personality is another key element—you need a mixture of introverts and extraverts.”

For Alexander, his strategy for identifying value and potential in less-skilled candidates is to start by looking at their background.

“What did they study and what proactive work have they done to get themselves educated? In technology and digital, the speed of change is exponential. If you don’t have people who are continually willing to learn and educate themselves, they’ll be left behind. I also look at how they stay on top of changing technology. How they answer that is really interesting to me,” he says.

Be open to the possibilities

For hiring and retaining great IT candidates in Australia’s competitive talent market, Nicholson and Alexander agree that it’s critical for employers across the country to keep their minds open.

“Don’t be closed off to good candidates,” says Alexander. “If you find people that have integrity and a good background in core skills, perhaps you can bring them in and develop them. In an environment where finding the right skills can be challenging and costly, you have to be open to other ways to identify talent. Look for other skills and be prepared to make an investment in people—for them, and for your business,” he adds.

“There are some scenarios where experience doesn’t matter, and where skills are relatively easily learned,” says Nicholson. “Like developing documents in HTML or creating templates. You shouldn’t be afraid of hiring a graduate or intern who has very few skills, if you believe they have the capacity to learn, and it’s in an area where a rapid rise to competence is possible,” he concludes.

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