Solving the experience talent gap

01 August 2019Robert Nicholson, Head of Digital, Robert Walters

Everyone is feeling the digital talent shortage. There’s growing demand from global tech firms, transformational businesses, digital agencies and the new breed of disruptive startups. The truth is, there just isn’t enough skilled digital talent to go round.

So what can companies do to ensure that they attract the right talent and hold on to it? At our recent unconference, XChange, we asked Robert Nicholson, Head of Digital at leading global recruitment firm, Robert Walters, to join us for a conversation with senior digital leaders from organisations such as Ford, EY, Prudential, Boden, GSK, Coutts and Shell. He shared some really useful insights and has kindly agreed to reproduce them in this article.

solving the experience talent gap

The skills scarcity is real

Cognifide helps us to create standout digital experiences to engage a wide, international talent pool. Specifically, they partner with us on our content management platform, Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). LinkedIn provides some fairly stark statistics on the talent shortage around this one specific technology—of the 31,000 people globally who list AEM among their skills on LinkedIn, only 996 of them are in London. Now, imagine the number of enterprise digital teams, tech companies, brands and agencies vying for that talent. So what can companies do to be more attractive to candidates?

Consider the entire employee lifecycle

At Robert Walters, we advise clients to approach hiring in the context of the entire employee lifecycle.

Consider the entire employee life cycle


This goes way beyond recruitment itself to help businesses to think about how they onboard, develop and retain employees. This is so important because, if the recruitment phase is considered in isolation, it’s easy to hire, just based on hard skills. Does this candidate know AEM or Marketo? Yes. Box ticked. However, it’s only when we start to consider the entire lifecycle that we start to think about soft skills too. Is this candidate a good cultural fit? Will this candidate get on well and add something to the existing team? Do we feel this person can develop and grow with us? All of this matters when hiring candidates and it’s the people that tick all those boxes that will be happy, productive and stick around. Equally, you need to ask yourself, “How will this person leave our business and will they have left their mark when they do?”

Get the mix right

If you’re looking for the right people, it can be a good idea to talk to a specialist recruitment agency who understands the market, as in-house recruiters can often struggle when looking for candidates in specialist roles. When I’m looking to hire for Marketo, for instance, I know which specialist recruiters to talk to and I get the results.

However, when it comes to delivering digital projects with the right team mix, I find that the most realistic scenario is to work with a mix of full-time employees, contractors and partner agencies, like Cognifide. A few XChange delegates also talked about bringing in young talent and training and developing graduates, for instance, to become experts. Again, as part of the mix, this is a fantastic option, but when you’ve just spent a fair portion of your budget on a brand new technology, you’ll want to know that you’ve got some experts in that mix somewhere.

Is emotional intelligence the big differentiator?

According to EQ guru, Daniel Goleman, it’s not the engineers with the greatest technical skills that will ultimately stand out. He conducted a study with over 1,000 engineers and deduced that it was those who could really empathise with other team members and customers that were ultimately better rated. They tend to work better with teammates, communicate better and blend more easily with your customers and other partners in the ecosystem.

Think teams and culture over the individual

A collective of highly skilled engineers does not necessarily make a team. It was, of course, Peter Drucker who said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is just as important when it comes to creating teams. If you employ someone who is at odds with your culture, it’s going to cause tension somewhere along the way. It’s just as important to reinforce this culture at the onboarding stage and consistently within teams. Culture defines how people treat each other and sets the scene for interaction and good communication.

Does too much development lead to attrition?

One XChange delegate raised the ever-present question around the balance of training and attrition. If we develop employees, are we just making them more employable by others? I go back to the employee life cycle to answer this one. If an employee is happy and engaged on interesting projects, where they can make a difference as an individual, it’s unlikely that they’ll be looking around. However, at the other end of the scale, you can send an individual on every training course but they aren’t happy with the work, they’re not the right cultural fit or you’re not giving them enough independence, chances are, they won’t stay.

How technical do marketers need to be?

This goes back to the hard skills v soft skills argument. However, unlike developers, marketers probably don’t need to have specific hard skills. The successful digital marketer tends to be the person with the right attitude. It’s the young graduates with the desire to learn. Authoring skills, for instance, tend to be transferable from technology to technology. So the hungry candidates, who are happy to put in the extra hours and teach themselves, are the ones who’ll really stand out. Hunger, curiosity and the will to learn are definitely winning traits.

Retaining goodwill

Millennials and their successors, GenZ, who are just coming into the workplace are not necessarily motivated by money as their predecessors tended to be. Flexibility, lifestyle and culture are dealmakers or breakers and companies need to really wake up to this to attract and retain top talent. And when employees do decide to leave, make sure that you keep the goodwill. Don’t work them to the bone to the last minute. Ask them for two weeks in which they should share their knowledge with the wider team. They’ll be turning up at ten and going to the pub anyway, so let them do it with goodwill. That way, you retain your knowledge and your reputation.

Watch out for more deeper dives into our XChange conversations over the next couple of months.

Author: Robert Nicholson, Head of Digital, Robert Walters
Published: 01 August 2019
AEMautomationcustomer experiencecustomer insightdigital transformation

People in or team love to share their experience. Explore our blog

Job Opportunities

We're always looking for new faces to join the Cognifide family. Take a look at our available jobs.