Jonathan Hopfner | August 08th, 2022

There’s a growing, and no doubt well-deserved, degree of scepticism around the narrative that people – particularly young people – are abandoning the job market in droves because their greatest ambition is to be bone-idle.

Nonetheless there is one field where regardless of how priorities or economic conditions change, talent will remain painfully scarce: technology. Whether from global agencies like the World Economic Forum or sector specialists like Gartner, all research points to a widening gulf between the tech skills businesses need and the number of people able to apply them.

This isn’t just bad news for companies, but entire economies and, by extension, societies. Recruitment giant Korn Ferry estimates that a global shortage of over 4 million tech workers – 59 times the number employed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet – could cost nearly US$500 billion in lost output by 2030, and threaten the technology dominance of countries like the United States and China.

What developers really want

In the shorter term, any business looking to hire developers or data scientists is likely to face a bruising uphill battle. A big part of the issue is that it’s not just technology companies on the hunt: as more banks, retailers, even winemakers look to build out apps or incorporate technologies like artificial intelligence into their operations, a much broader range of companies are seeking similar kinds of people.

Many firms are confronting this problem in the traditional manner: throwing vast amounts of money at it. But as some business leaders are already pointing out, there’s a point at which this strategy simply isn’t sustainable; nor does it tend to result in the kind of committed, long-term hires most companies are really after. This has prompted some firms to test out different approaches, like offering more flexible working arrangements or boosting the focus on employee experience.

Recent conversations with our technology clients have pointed to one area that’s often overlooked but, when properly invested in, can have a big impact on efforts to attract and retain technologists: storytelling. This might sound odd, but hear me out: companies are often so focused on communicating their views or insights to current and potential clients that they forget they’re also (effectively) speaking to prospective talent.

As one client recently remarked to me, while some technologists are motivated by money, the vast majority are idealists at heart. They engage with technology because of its transformative potential, and its ability when applied in the right way to solve pressing social and economic problems.

Research seems to reinforce this view, with studies pointing to developers placing a high priority on a company’s sense of purpose, or commitments to causes like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and sustainability. What’s more, company-produced media, such as blog posts or corporate culture videos, are one of the top ways prospective tech hires learn about future employers.

The open-book approach

All this adds up to a strong argument for making meaningful content and powerful stories an integral part of the organisation’s strategy to attract technologists. That’s easier said than done, of course, and requires a lot in terms of thought, planning and commitment – but here are a few ways we often advise our clients to start:

*Always keep prospective talent in mind as a potential audience, even when producing custom research or thought leadership ultimately intended for clients. Could an article or report be reworked or extracted from to enhance its appeal or relevance to the profile of your ideal hire? Can you use content to illustrate the ways your enterprise is confronting, and resolving (or helping others resolve), complex challenges? Is there an opportunity to explain how you’re applying technology in interesting new ways?

*Publish regularly to articulate the company’s culture and purpose as well as its capabilities or the value proposition(s) it offers customers – but do so in a way that’s demonstrative rather than declarative, and as specific as possible. For example, an infographic illustrating how diversity, equity and inclusion have been integrated into office design will prove much more convincing than a rehashed statement of the company’s DEI policy.

*Give curious people places to engage in dialogue. If you know potential hires are scouring your website and social channels, it makes sense to invite them to ask questions, or even to participate in conversations about your organisation’s business environment and priorities. Taking some time to get to know candidates before they even apply for a job will give you a better sense of what they might be looking for, and also paints the picture of an enterprise that’s conscientious, transparent and accessible right from the start.

Above all, a lot of smart, highly talented people value sincerity. Not everything you publish has to speak to or convince a would-be recruit. But in the war for tech talent, solid storytelling can prove an invaluable addition to the arsenal.

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