Module 2: How to get nearer the work market

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Driven by innovation and technological evolution, digital transformation is reshaping society, the labour market and the future of work. Employers face difficulties in recruiting highly skilled workers across a number of economic sectors, including in the digital sector. Levels of digital skills in the EU are still low, albeit gradually improving, while the digital transformation is accelerating. 90% of jobs in all sectors in the future will require some form of digital skills, yet 35% of Europe’s workers lack these skills

All Member States face shortages of digital experts, including data analysts, cybersecurity analysts, software developers, digital accessibility specialists and machine-learning experts. 58% of companies that wish to hire digital specialists report difficulties in recruiting, and 78% of companies cite a lack of appropriate skills as the main barrier to new investment.

Higher education institutions are also facing the lack of digital talent, which is present in most of the economic sectors. In this sector, the expenditure on human resources accounts for about two-thirds of current expenditure by higher education institutions across OECD countries. In many higher education systems, academics play a reduced role in institutional governance, while professional staff play a wider role. Professional staff take on the responsibility of meeting new challenges in institutional management, such as facilitating the responsiveness of institutions to student and external stakeholder needs, marketing, raising income and responding to accountability demands. This specialisation represents an important change in academic culture, academic careers, and the governance and management of higher education institutions. These tasks can be carried out by higher education institutions in the same way as by a private firm, subject only to the requirements of labour law. 

Coming to the specific field of digital transformation, many employees lack knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), i.e., digital talent. For instance, some reports have stated that up to 54% of organisations admit that their lack of digital competencies impedes digital transformation

Given that one of the tasks in recruitment is to generate a large pool of qualified candidates that fit companies’ requirements, it becomes clear that recruitment plays a role in the digital transformation; that is, recruitment needs to support digital transformation by attracting digital talent. However, some organisations have found recruiting digital talent to be challenging for at least two reasons: first, the limited supply of digital talent, combined with high demand, leads to a ‘war for digital talent’. Second, some organisations are rather unfamiliar with the new target group of digital talent, and these skilled workers. Consequently, attracting digital talent is challenging especially for these organisations.

To deal with these challenges, recruiters— as well as the organisation—need to adapt to these altered conditions and demands from the new target group. Triggered by their struggles in recruiting digital talent, recruiters have felt the urge to implement change in three areas: first, they realised that they need to adapt their measures and processes to attract digital talent. Second, they realised the need for a mind-set change within recruitment itself. Third, they realised that the organisation needs to transform itself to attract and retain digital talent.

How to reach, then, the digital talent? Another concept that emerges under the theme of adapting recruitment measures and processes is that recruiters intensify their focus on generating employer familiarity among members of the new target group. In the short term, organisations try to increase their employer familiarity among candidates who are searching for a job actively by being listed in employer rankings, visiting job fairs and hosting images and recruiting events in exotic locations. In the long term, organisations invest in image campaigns, online marketing and sponsoring activities (e.g., sports sponsoring) to increase their employer familiarity among job candidates, or they fund business incubators or support student groups and projects to make candidates aware of them.

Organisations also experiment with new communication channels and content to meet requirements of digital talent. Concerning communication channels, they use a variety of digital media channels, with the goal of spreading knowledge about the organisation (e.g., by 20 releasing a smartphone game application simulating working life) and enabling interactions with potential candidates (e.g., by using social media or matching tools integrated in career websites). Furthermore, organisations select channels to communicate with their new target group more carefully. As digital-talent individuals prefer to communicate about professional content, communication channels that focus on professional know-how, such as trade fairs or webinars, have become more important than career fairs, in which the focus lies on HR-related content, such as working conditions or benefits. Also, organisations increasingly rely on events with informal atmospheres, such as meeting candidates at local sporting events, to publicise professional content and establish relationships with potential candidates, instead of inviting digital talent to an assessment centre.

Furthermore, it is emphasised that existing recruitment instruments must be adapted to the preferences of an increasingly courted and demanding workforce. For instance, career websites and job ads are receiving makeovers, and the application process is being refined to meet the expectations of digital talent. HR professionals have reduced potential psychological hurdles by limiting the amount of information the applicant must provide, while simultaneously guaranteeing a valid selection process. For instance, digital- 21 talent candidates may no longer be required to send a cover letter or may even be asked to provide a link to their programming record (e.g., GitHub), instead of formal CVs. Thus, recruiters more and more are playing the role of mediators who balance applicants’ interests (with a low level of effort and time spent in the process), departments with vacancies (sufficient amount of information about a candidate’s KSAs) and the HR department (a fair number of incoming applications, comparability of information).

Recruiters also have discovered the necessity of networking. Some organisations now operationalise IT recruitment as building a pool of candidates who might be suited for a future, but not-yet-existent, vacancy. These organisations consequently use employer branding measures and events to acquire a large pool of interesting candidates and put effort into building loose, but nevertheless enduring, relationships with these candidates to hire them eventually in case of a fitting vacancy. Besides networking with potential candidates, recruiters also build networks with groups of actors outside the organisation.

It is clear that there is a need to realign recruitment tasks toward the organisation’s strategic orientation by shifting recruitment efforts towards the digital target group to acquire the human capital needed to implement digitalisation, and by addressing the need to change the organisational mind-set into a ‘digital’ one. The adaptation of recruitment measures and processes, as well as of recruiting’s role and mind-set, supports the transformation of the whole organisation, with the goal of attracting and retaining digital talent.

Read the following articles to know different strategies to improve the recruitment effectiveness in Higher Education:

Watch the following videos to widen your view about recruiting digital talent and get some ideas about recruitment in higher education institutions:

University Recruiting Best Practices | HackerRankTV (8:43min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1CWH1Qfz4M 

Take Action!

Now that you have a clear picture about the recruitment of digital talent in universities, let’s analyze the other side of it: how do the HE institutions ensure that their students are digitally talented to be part of the demanded workforce in the labour market? There are many different types of HE institutions having different structures, size, departments and roles. The specific obligation of assuring the readiness of the students related to digital competences and labour market can be responsibility of different areas: Business, Career Development, Contents, each Faculty, and so on. We would like you to know the situation in your organization.

Find out which department in your HE institution is responsible to ensure that the students acquire the necessary digital competences to be competitive in the labour market. Get in touch with a responsible for this matter and ask him/her about the best practices they follow to be aligned with the labour market demand. Elaborate a description on how, who, and what is done to maintain students’ digital skills in line with labour market needs. If you are not able to find a responsible person, try to understand how this process is carried out in your organization and / or if you can suggest starting to explore that field. Look for inspiration in the experience of other institutions by having a look at the community comments. You can also contribute with the course community by sharing some of those ideas and / or commenting about others’.

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