How SMEs can draw and retain young tech talent

Understand the talent and strategise in order to stay on top of the talent acquisition game and retain high quality talent.

Tech Talent

SMALL and medium enterprises (SMEs) are at the heart of Singapore’s economy. SMEs make up 99 per cent of our enterprises, employ two-thirds of our workforce, and account for nearly half of Singapore’s gross domestic product.

One of the biggest challenges that SMEs face is undoubtedly the shortage of talent – especially top tech talent. Singapore, a hub for many large tech companies, has intensified the challenge for SMEs to attract quality talent in a market where demand for skills far outweighs supply. What can SMEs do to stay on top of the talent acquisition game and attract and retain high quality tech talent?

The key lies in understanding the talent – millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) – that SMEs are looking to hire. By 2020, millennials, born approximately between 1982-2000, are poised to make up more than a third of the global workforce, while Gen Z will make up a fifth of the workforce. Armed with progressive career expectations, millennials and Gen Z are reshaping the 21st century workforce. SMEs need to embrace this shift and strategise to attract and retain bright minds. Here are some ways that SMEs can position themselves to be most attractive to the best tech talent that Singapore has to offer.

Consider unconventional talent pools

SMEs should consider potential candidates coming from non-technology backgrounds but who have a passion for technology. A successful hiring strategy looks beyond traditional talent pools, and diversity in hiring is key. A strong focus on diversity enables access to a wider pool of potential tech talent of different genders, nationalities, qualifications, backgrounds and experiences. Once SMEs identify how they can tap into an alternative pool of people, they will have access to a sustainable source to attract talent.

Build and protect an outstanding culture

Culture is more than providing free food, having a gym or building a fantastic games space. SMEs should create and foster a unique culture that is built around their core values and principles. This could include empowering employees to act autonomously, providing career advancement opportunities, instilling a system of gathering frequent feedback, implementing child or pet friendly policies and offering flexible work environments. There is also a need to experiment and innovate with the perks and benefits that attract top talent and differentiate SMEs from their competitors.

Have a clear purpose beyond bottom line

According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2017, the vast majority of employees perceive a company’s focus on purpose and people to be just as important as its ability to generate profit.

Subscribing to the notion of purpose over paycheques, millennials and Gen Z find it fulfilling when working for companies that have a direct positive impact on society. Smaller companies don’t necessarily have to flex their financial muscles like the bigger tech giants. SMEs can build their social impact through projects and ensure that employees get meaning from their work. This is more than contributing to charity – it is about having a larger purpose beyond revenues and getting people excited about it.

For example, at ThoughtWorks, we believe in advancing Social and Economic Justice and this is a huge part of who we are, what we do, and impacts the decisions we make as a company. We are uniquely positioned to influence how technology impacts in the world and we do this through movements such as:

  • Technology for social good
  • Defending the free internet
  • Inclusivity in the IT Industry

The overarching belief is about how we can do everyday jobs and yet have a positive impact on the society we live in. Likewise, it is crucial that SMEs demonstrate how their business and employees can give back to their communities.

Continuous training beyond traditional trainings

Continuous learning is critical in today’s tech world and passionate technologists give great importance to staying in the know, experimenting, and trying new tech. This mindset requires organisation leaders to provide employees with a certain degree of autonomy to drive individual and team learning – whether in the form of providing time for self-organised groups to get together to learn new tech, or giving talent room to explore new tech solutions to solve business problems. Supplementing this approach with external traditional training also appeals to the new generation of workers.

Communication through various channels

Hiring great people will in turn attract more great talent. Increasingly, companies worldwide are leaning on employee referrals to source for talent, particularly SMEs who are in early stages of growth. SMEs have begun employing HR and talent practices that acknowledge every team member as a brand ambassador, allowing staff to represent organisations at formal and informal events. Historically, senior management executives have been the face of the company, however this has evolved with young companies providing everyone with opportunities to take centre stage. This could be in the form of hosting meetups and online events, or being guest lecturers. The impact of these initiatives is that potential recruits can see and hear from the people they would work with on a daily basis, rather than hearing from only a select few about what the company and job is really like.

Build a strong brand

Finally, to bring all these together, constant attention has to be paid to the organisation’s brand. It is crucial to showcase the company’s unique culture and core values to potential talent

As people continue to turn towards social sites and search engines for information, a strong presence on social media has become a necessity to attract talent. Potential employees want to feel that an employer shares their outlook and values. Besides strengthening its online social presence, an SME can also engage with the tech community offline. By demonstrating what it can be like to work in a SME, companies can attract millennials who will consider employment with smaller businesses if they like what they see.

There are many ways that companies can actively engage the tech community. Organising and participating in industry events and being visible in the local tech scene will help elevate a company’s brand. Encouraging employees to broadcast their voice on public platforms, share their journeys and what their working days and lives are like will humanise a company and give potential recruits a glimpse into a potential work environment.

And above all

As SMEs continue to face off with MNCs in the battle for tech resources, SMEs should highlight the benefits in joining smaller, agile, fast paced teams. Excite potential talent by communicating greater opportunities for exposure, highly-driven and integrated cultures, and faster career progression. Like all good things, building a successful tech team and creating an amazing workplace takes time.

Published by Business Times on Jan 30, 2018.


The writer is head of Talent Acquisition, ThoughtWorks.

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