How to find and retain talent, according to CIOs

At the recent IDC CIO Summit in Dubai  – themed Enabling the Digital Economy’s Leaders – the topic of talent attraction and retention was a key talking point for those at the event.

Finding and keeping tech talent has never been easy but as the world of work continues to evolve and organisations shift to hybrid work models, new challenges and opportunities present themselves. How can technology leaders leverage these shifts to enhance online and virtual experiences and strengthen competitiveness by developing people, talent, and skills?

At the summit, ITDMs discussed how the technology talent market has changed, pushing organisations to leverage innovative work models. Companies are examining how they can change themselves and their team structures to leverage the current situation and enhance productivity.

Marc Dowd, VP Research, CIO Advisory, IDC UK, says there have been a lot of concerns about skills shortages globally, particularly since the pandemic.

“One of the big influences was the fact everybody was working from home, they liked it, and they did not want to be back in the office. People now live in a world market, they can sell their skills to every place around the world… One of my clients lost 50 per cent of its IT team. At the moment, a lot of companies have projects that are running three and a half months behind because they can’t find the right staff. Some of them were hired by big tech companies, out of our region.”

Jason Roos, CIO at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), says it’s important to focus on attitude rather than skills when hiring.

“When KAUST was set up the whole idea was to be focused on high-tech applicable research. The whole culture is about entrepreneurship and innovation, and we have a group focused on innovation. When I recruit talent I look for attitude, and people that can work with others. Skills come second.  If they become toxic in your organisation, that’s the worst that can happen. I look for  people who want to be in the team and I give them the chance to fail. If they don’t fail they don’t try and technology is evolving. Skills only last for a short time, you need to learn all the time.”

Before coming to the Middle East, Roos was working in California.  He found at the time that if he wanted, for example, to test some drones, he had to deal with multiple municipalities and a lot of bureaucracy.  He says things in the tech sector in KSA are easier. “The red tape is much less and you can make this happen. When you bring new talent to this country they are excited, it’s all about motivation.”

According to the panellists at the summit, when they talk about the skills gap, organisations need to know where they stand now and what are the skills sets that are needed. If you know where you are heading, and you know the gap, you can close it, so the question is: Do IT departments need to hire people or change the way they work?

Mai Alowaish, Chief Data and Innovation Officer at Gulf Bank, says it’s beneficial to examine what resources you have internally and look to upskill where possible. 

“In the bank, we need a business analyst, for example. I do have my data scientist, but I need someone to understand. I can’t get them from outside because I need someone who understands the banking sector, so upskilling your internal talent makes a huge difference. One of the keys to being successful is having a good HR department, they know the people. So build the talent instead of looking for it, and make them stay.”