Redefining the narrative: Taking ownership for building the future of digital talent

By Candice Solomons, Business Executive at iOCO Digital Talent

Johannesburg, 22 Apr 2024
On the hunt for digital talent.
On the hunt for digital talent.

The global digital skills shortage isn’t breaking news. We know that the more businesses embrace technology-driven transformation, the harder it will be to find and keep digital talent. Without the right skills, the digital ambitions of many enterprises will remain just that: ambitions. Competitive edge will slip, commercial relevance will falter and businesses will find themselves vulnerable to more agile disruptors. The talent crunch won’t be letting up any time soon and for companies that need digital proficiencies to grow, this has already become a battle for survival.

But as the hunt for digital talent intensifies, the usual recruitment tactics of higher salaries and better perks will not work. To secure the skills needed for the digital-first age and to foster future-proof workforces, businesses must create entirely new talent models by turning their biggest challenges into opportunities.

Does a permanent staff complement really create the continuity that organisations seek?

More businesses are falling behind in their digital development requirements, constantly having to push out go-live dates because they simply don’t have access to the right level of skills. There is an imbalance between the opportunities available – the competitive edge to be cultivated – and the skills available to exploit those opportunities.

The uncomfortable truth is that most businesses cannot afford the eye-watering costs that have become commonplace in the skills search. According to OfferZen, the starting salary for entry-level software developers is 21.4% higher than in 2022; 36.3% higher for junior software developers; and a significant 42.6% higher for intermediate software developers.

Furthermore, many businesses lose the skills that they nurture in-house, seeing their junior skills snatched up by other companies after gaining some experience. Nor can businesses afford to counter-offer, particularly when talent is being head-hunted by global corporations with compensation packages that local companies cannot match. The reality is that it has become a candidate-driven market; with companies having to sell themselves to talent, it has become a struggle to differentiate against the highest bidder.

Turning setbacks into successful talent models

iOCO is one of the largest deeply technical organisations in South Africa and our core business is helping customers develop their competitive edge. Yet we face the same problems as every IT department out there.

How are we tackling this skills problem and how can we solve it for you?

1. Like you, we are developing our youth and building their future skills

Across the group and focusing on IT, we’re incubating 174 students at various levels. We’ve developed bespoke Quality Assurance & Automation NQF-accredited learning programmes that immerse students in real-world learning scenarios, along with learnerships that focus on developing skills across our core digital business, including software development, quality assurance, data, DevOps and cloud.

How are we tackling the reality of our now trained learners who have acquired a level of experience in their field of study, leaving us? The truth is, we can’t. We’ve made peace with the reality that they will be offered the next great opportunity with a 100% increase in an already solid internship, learnership or junior salary; it’s inevitable and it’s good for them. While we encourage their growth and success, we also strive to provide them with an enriching experience at iOCO. Our aim is that they return to us in the future, bringing back valuable knowledge and skills. Investing in their development is an investment in both their future and ours. This perspective fuels a renewed energy to support the growth of our youth.

2. We are becoming more flexible in how we hire our talent

I head up an area in iOCO that focuses on hiring and acquiring the best skills for our organisation, Digital Talent. One of the top frustrations faced by my talent acquisition consultants is the rejection of a solid candidate presented to a hiring manager who matches 80% of the skills required, despite knowing that they could shift to a 100% fit within a quarter through a simple upskilling process.

Technology skills are important – but at the rate technologies change, these may not stay relevant for long. As a result, I believe that enterprises should be seeking out the ‘soft’ skills that contribute to their capacity for change, while emphasising diversity in talent pools to encourage new approaches to problem-solving and achievement. Capabilities like these may not come with certificates, but can be measured and developed like any other.

By adopting this approach to hiring already-skilled staff that can be further developed, we address several challenges. Offering more reasonable salaries allows individuals to acquire skills that will substantially increase their earning potential in the near future. This strategy broadens our candidate pool, promoting diversity while reducing our time-to-hire and diminishing our reliance on rigid skill profiles. Ultimately, this approach is a win-win for everyone involved.

3. We have developed strong partnerships

At iOCO, we have a fully operational Staff OnDemand model that harnesses local and global partnerships, and employs digital skills from anywhere in the world.

We currently have three commercial approaches to deliver our Staff OnDemand services to our customers: Specialist skills, customer managed teams (“squads”) and managed services.

We have been successfully consuming these commercial models internally since 2020, with more than 216 consultants engaging via one of the three models. Currently, we have more than 135 consultants working remotely from five different countries, fully integrated into our own development teams.

The future of work starts with the choices we make today, which is why it’s time to rethink our strategies to attract and retain the talent we need. In the next article, we will explore the urgent need to shift from credential to skills-based hiring, by focusing on capabilities over qualifications.