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Thinking outside the box to reduce the talent shortage

Targeting a wider pool of potential employees can never be deemed a disadvantage for employers in the tech industry. Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-Founder, Natterbox, gave his opinion on how businesses should consider employing those from less privileged and varied backgrounds in order to tighten the cyber skills gap.

The story around the skills gap in technology and the shortage of actual talent to fill it is an old one. Companies today almost wear it like a badge of honour: finding qualified staff is impossible. But is it actually the case?

To me, the fear of not finding talent is only justified when companies go through the traditional way of hiring, where a university degree and some solid experience is required to make the cut. This drastically reduces the talent pool companies could tap into, so if they are to fill the talent shortage, they need to start thinking outside the box.

Expanding the talent pool

Finding the right people for the job has always been a challenge and it will likely remain that way. Many of us will be familiar with the disappointment of hiring a new staff member, only to find they don’t turn up on their first day or aren’t quite what you expected. And although there used to be a long waiting list for jobs, that just isn’t the case now and companies aren’t helping themselves by narrowing their options to the university educated.

Ultimately, a degree and impressive qualifications aren’t the be all and end all – in fact, with so many university graduates on the job searching scene, good grades don’t necessarily stand out from the crowd anymore. For this reason, companies should be extending their recruitment opportunities to a wider audience, searching for a balance of not only qualifications, but experience that demonstrates determination, loyalty, ambition and passion.

When sifting through CVs, some of the most important things I look for are how long the candidate has spent in their previous role and what interests they have outside of work. Granted, triathlon experience in practise may only pay off on the annual work sports day, but it’s the transferable skills behind that experience – resolve, persistence, hunger – that will go a long way in any business. Perseverance in particular is an attribute I have found to be a key to success. I once interviewed a candidate for a sales role – during the interview, she told me she didn’t want a base salary, simply 100% commission. A bold statement, but one that demonstrated an extremely high level of confidence in her ability to fulfil the job role requirements. When you find those kinds of people, you need to snap them up quickly before someone else does.

Another crucial point to consider is that the best candidates don’t always come from the traditional interview-based hiring route. One of my most unusual hires started in a petrol station. A young woman who had struggled to get a job due to her background – working-class with minimal education and a lack of qualifications. But when given a chance and left to her own devices, she was able to build things on our platform quicker than any of my existing employees. Traditional recruitment routes just don’t find these gems.

We also need to be careful judging the younger generation on their education. If you think back to when you were a teenager, I’m sure you get the same nightmarish flashbacks as me: stress, hormones, peer pressure, girlfriends, boyfriends. Considering all those factors, is it reasonable to write someone off simply based on the results they got as a teenager? Everyone has the potential to achieve greatness if only given the chance. In my personal experience, formal apprenticeship schemes that enable people without degrees to experience all aspects of business are a great opportunity to give people that chance. Naturally, they can be a slight drain on resources in the initial stages, but the end results can be highly rewarding for both the candidate and the company.

Making the most of existing talent

Many business owners find themselves in a never-ending hiring cycle. Fresh talent is always welcome and a great addition to the business will never go amiss but hiring new staff can be expensive and it never hurts to boast a high staff retention rate. With that in mind, focusing attention on existing staff as well as updating the recruitment process will ensure businesses strike the right balance between retaining the best and hiring those who can be the best.

Regular complaints that I have heard a lot as a business owner and CEO usually come back to the feedback process during staff reviews. Having to tell a staff member they aren’t doing so well is never a nice feeling and something that all managers dread – a bad staff member doesn’t always mean a bad person. But with that in mind, if you want a staff member to succeed, sometimes you must be cruel to be kind. First off, a member of management should never use the term ‘need to improve’. To have any kind of helpful input, you must call out the specifics – what do they need to improve on and how can they do it? Otherwise that staff member will never feel empowered to change. We’re not at school anymore – staff get better job satisfaction from proper, actionable feedback. Sometimes though, it will come around to review time and there will be staff that are doing great, they just aren’t quite ready for the next step yet – and that’s fine. The problem is that those people too need encouragement and considered feedback that they can act on and feel inspired by to achieve their goals. A simple ‘keep doing what you’re doing’ just doesn’t cut it in these situations.

Ultimately, people are like sponges – they learn quickly if they are bright and given the opportunity. The problem is that they can be missed if the hiring criteria is too narrow, or management fail to nurture them in the right direction. I can speak from experience when I say that not hiring someone based on a superficial basis will only result in the company missing out on great talent. Expanding recruitment opportunities to target those from varied backgrounds and offering existing staff the appropriate feedback will ensure that isn’t the case. As business management author, Tom Peters, once said, ‘hire for attitude and train for skills’.

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