How can your small business attract top-class tech talent?

Two people at a job interview sat at a desk
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While businesses continue to lament the threat of a widening digital skills gap, the pandemic has also shown how vulnerable organisations are to shifting recruitment patterns. All companies, large and small, are considering how to grow beyond COVID-19 by asking how to effectively recruit the talent they need to meet customer demands and innovate in their marketplaces.

Often dubbed the “great resignation”, ADP’s People at Work 2021 study found nearly a third (28%) of respondents had changed their role due to labour market shifts, with this figure increasing to 36% for Generation Z workers. Combined with changes across the workforce, and the need for enterprises to embrace technology to help them navigate the post-pandemic business landscape, it's critical that organisations create an engaging environment in which people with the required talent can thrive.

For small businesses, however, it might be far more difficult to stay competitive within a labour market that’s already transformed radically. This is especially true given larger corporations have more pulling power, with beefier salaries and shinier perks. Less well-resourced companies, therefore, will need to tap into their own strengths to stand a chance of competing on the same footing as their larger counterparts.

Fostering the right culture

“Small businesses definitely have a card to play if they invest in their employer branding,” says Aude Barral, co-founder and CCO of developer recruitment platform CodinGame, who explains smaller enterprises have a lot to offer future tech talent. “We found a lot of developers prefer to work for a smaller company whose values they are aligned with than to work for a larger group that offers many perks but a much more impersonal career path.”

Creating an inclusive culture, supporting wellbeing, and encouraging collaboration, even when working at a distance, are practical ways smaller companies can develop a good foundation for future tech recruitment. That way, these organisations can stand a chance of competing for the limited tech talent available.

In its report into diversity in tech, mthree concluded more than half (59%) of people aged 18 to 24 working in tech had either left or wanted to leave a role because the company culture made them feel uncomfortable. Indeed, according to the data, 71% of young tech workers had previously felt uncomfortable in a job because of their gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or neurodevelopmental condition. This figure rose to 74% of female respondents, 77% of Black respondents, 83% of mixed-race respondents, 85% of bisexual respondents, and 87% of homosexual respondents.

Company culture is so important when it comes to not only attracting, but also retaining talent, and a truly inclusive environment can be hard to achieve,” says mthree’s senior director of global emerging talent and reskill operations, Becs Roycroft. “Businesses need to ensure they’re really listening to their young employees across all departments and responding to their needs, otherwise they’re going to struggle to maintain and improve the diversity on their teams in the long term.”

These findings are reinforced with Accenture research, which found that while employees expect more from their employers, leaders are, too, taking more responsibility for workers’ holistic wellbeing. “Emotional, relational, and purposeful dimensions are the strongest drivers of positive employee behaviour; playing a major role in whether workers seek to join or leave an organisation,” managing director of Accenture Interactive, Liz Barnsdale, tells IT Pro. “There is no doubt that businesses with happy employees will see increased profitability.”

Tech talent futures

"We find that employees want to feel valued, and that money is not everything,” says Russel Collins, learning and development manager with digital marketing firm Add People. He points out the value a business places on its staff is critical to hold onto these people over the long term. “If you are willing to take the time to understand the values that drive each of your employees and what their picture of success looks like, you will retain your talent for longer. It's naive to think that you can retain everyone, but generally, valued employees value the businesses they work for.”

Nick Thompson, CEO of software firm DCSL GuideSmiths, adds a new approach to recruitment is needed. “As remote working becomes almost second nature for many employees in the UK, businesses are desperately trying to solve their talent crisis, many of whom have begun to transition towards ‘borderless’ jobs,” he tells IT Pro. “Research shows that the global tech sector is likely to benefit the most from the trend of borderless jobs, and in an industry that remains essential for business growth and sustainability, this could look to change the game completely.”

While traditional forms of recruitment might cost up to £50,000, with an average of 63 days to fill a position, he continues, the ‘borderless shift’ ensures positions are filled with efficiency while maintaining low costs.

This approach is supported by the hybrid work report from the Adecco Group, which found 63% of UK respondents want to spend at least 40% of their time working remotely. A comprehensive and flexible remote working strategy, therefore, is an essential prerequisite for smaller businesses hoping to secure the tech talent they need to recover and innovate post-pandemic.

Small businesses also have the advantage of being agile and able to redraw their companies to reflect the changing priorities of their existing staff and, critically, the new employees they wish to recruit. The re-imagining of work can also be an advantage, with legacy working practices being swept away and replaced with dynamic searches for tech talent that’s worldwide.

Retraining existing staff, and the rise of the citizen developer, are also part of the post-pandemic recruitment arsenal. Small business leaders still have competition from much larger businesses, but with the ability to create an exciting working environment, support diversity, and demonstrate their company pays attention to the values of its staff, a small organisation can demonstrate to potential candidates why it might be, on balance, the best place to work.

David Howell

David Howell is a freelance writer, journalist, broadcaster and content creator helping enterprises communicate.

Focussing on business and technology, he has a particular interest in how enterprises are using technology to connect with their customers using AI, VR and mobile innovation.

His work over the past 30 years has appeared in the national press and a diverse range of business and technology publications. You can follow David on LinkedIn.