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Engineering Leadership

Retaining tech talent: THE challenge for tech leaders

Vasile Putina
Vasile Putina
Chief Technology Officer

The biggest challenge for tech leaders is not technical. It is human.

That statement may seem disconnected from reality, at a time when artificial intelligence is becoming essential to our daily lives.

And yet… As powerful as new technologies are, they are nothing without the expertise of the IT experts who train them and use them intelligently, whether it’s to deliver the roadmap on time or to ensure continuity of production.

Staff retention

According to a survey conducted by McKinsey, 9 out of 10 leaders say they are facing recruitment difficulties or expect to encounter them in the next five years.

The source of these difficulties?

The gap between the appearance of new technologies and their learning curve – the new professional aspirations of tech talent – the economic context…

Though the year has only really just begun, 2023 has been marked by massive layoffs at Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, and Zoom.

To cope with market changes and the scarcity of tech resources, tech leaders must build a retention strategy so as not to slow down their activity.

There may not be a universal solution, but several avenues deserve to be explored:

  1. Audit internal capabilities
  2. Train IT specialists on targeted technologies
  3. Multiply sourcing channels
  4. Rely on an external technology partner

Retention of tech talent: Conduct an audit on essential skills as well as in-demand skills, and anticipate their costs

Undertaking a regular, in-depth internal assessment of essential skills, the training wishes of your teammates, and the future technical base of the company – these all allow you to avoid rushing into a massive, time-consuming, and costly recruitment plan.

What are the skills on which the survival of the product depends?

The McKinsey survey mentioned above also reports that less than 50% of respondents have a clear view of the skills of their employees.

The identification of the skills to be maintained in the company must be pragmatic.

However, care must be taken not to limit the discussion to just the current technical scope of the product. This identification work also involves, among other things, knowledge of the company’s business challenges and the interpersonal skills that promote adaptability and collaboration.

For us, the most important questions to ask are the following:

  • What are the skills on which the survival of the product depends?
  • How many people have mastered them?
  • What happens if one or more of those people stop working on the product?
  • How is knowledge transfer organized?
  • What plan should be put in place so that the transition is imperceptible to the customer?

This approach helps facilitate prioritization.

What future skills will you need?

Between proven technologies and new technologies, it can be complicated to plan and decide on the future technological base of the company.

This conversation however needs to get started in order to anticipate your future needs better, whether that concerns recruitment or internal training.

Some guiding thoughts:

  • Who will manage the infrastructure in the event of the departure of the CIO?
  • How can the security of the systems be ensured in spite of turnover?
  • What technologies is the company moving towards?
  • What are the tasks that can be automated, and in this regard, how to upgrade the associated skills?
  • How much should the company depend on tools, and how much on tech resources? How can each complement the other’s weaknesses?

Estimating their costs

The management of a retention strategy also involves monitoring the costs that it generates in order to identify the ROI.

This must also include the costs induced by the departure of an employee so that the distribution of the budget is respected.

The table provides an overview of the different expense items and the KPIs to monitor:

Cost Category for Tech Talent Retention Strategy Cost details KPI
RECRUITMENT Publication of job offers on dedicated sites Ratio between the number of views and the number of applications
Online/offline advertising Ad costper click
INTERNAL TRAINING Creation or maintenance of a training platform Number of training courses taken by employees
Individual assessment with interview and skills assessment Rate of assessments performed each month
REPLACEMENT OF AN EMPLOYEE Social charges and departure procedures Velocity
Team restructuring Changes to the burndown chart

To conduct this survey, do not hesitate to collaborate with HR teams to set up the questionnaires and interviews. The goal is to better understand the expectations of tech talent and what they need to stay motivated and involved.

Moreover, creating standardized questionnaires makes it possible to obtain data and make decisions based on facts rather than impressions.

The intersection of these three big questions will help you build a retention strategy that meets the needs of your teammates and those of the company.

Continuing education: A win-win situation

Any tech talent looking to excel in their profession must keep training and monitoring technologies.

However, these require time, often time that is taken from hobbies, sports, or time spent with family.

Offering suitable tools and training courses helps to increase quality of life at work and at home: a win-win situation for you and your teams.

This professional support can take the form of learning new technologies or new tools, and even training in a new profession such as Scrum Master, Product Owner, or DevOps.

Supported by online courses, external conferences or workshops, and internal mentoring, these new skills can be deployed faster to serve the product and increase business agility.

According to the McKinsey study, 7 out of 10 companies report that the business impact of training programs is equal to or greater than the investment.

A new grammar of work is being written: teleworking and team spirit, change and resilience must go hand in hand.

In this training program, relational skills must be considered equally important as technical skills.

Demonstrating a critical and constructive spirit, making the right decision in a complex context, communicating clearly and effectively, managing a team or adapting quickly to change while keeping the focus on business objectives – all these are only some of what is needed for cultivating know-how in the company so that the collective can gain in maturity and expertise.

Multiply sourcing channels to maintain a sustained flow of skills

Implementing a staffing strategy that relies on different channels ensures that turnover does not impact the company’s activity and the services you provide to your customers.

Of course, recruitment remains the primary channel. But it takes a long time and its outcome is uncertain.

A long time, because the talent pool is shrinking all the time. And even when recruits are found, they usually need to give notice. The result is an average of 5 months of waiting before the arrival of a new person in your team.

An uncertain outcome, because they may not successfully complete the trial period, although this is typically the period when we invest the most time and energy in onboarding.

The result here adds the months of trial period to the months of recruitment, producing in some cases 8 months lost in recruitment.

To offset the recruitment risks, you can use external technology partners.

Their mission is to offer you specific skills for supplementing team capacities or for building Agile IT teams. They work independently on a project or take over while in-house tech specialists train on new technologies.

By going through an external partner, the staffing time drops from 8 months to less than 1 month.

Recruitment and assessment of candidates is delegated to the partner, who ensures that the transition is frictionless and does not impact your schedule.

The benefits are immediate.

Budget optimization

To respect the budget, a number of actions can be combined – such as part-time availability, pooling of skills between teams, flexibility in increasing and reducing allocated capacities, collaborating with nearshore or offshore IT teams.

Time savings

The technical maturity of external talent allows you to skip the training period. Teams are immediately operational.

Increased productivity

A technology partner like Pentalog can offer skills or teams over several continents.

The advantage is that the external team does development while the internal team is sleeping – and vice versa.

Access to the best tech skills

To remain competitive, technology partners have no choice but to stand out through the profiles they can make available.

To do this, they rely on high-level recruitment and assessment tools and processes to assess the technical and relational skills of each candidate in detail and to offer the best profiles.

Upskilling of internal teams

Far from being competition, integrating external skills allows the internal team to gain technical maturity through mentoring or peer-programming work.

A transfer of knowledge is also carried out before the end of the collaboration, so that the internal teams are brought fully up-to-speed on the tool and the web or mobile application.

Finally, delegating projects with lower strategic value allows the internal team to focus on innovation and on the core of the offer.

How to choose your external service provider to support your tech talent retention strategy

To remove any doubts you may have when selecting your future partner, some challenging questions:

  1. What criteria does this potential partner apply to evaluate and retain the people who will join your workforce? Do they use 360-degree assessments (technical, human skills, communication, collaboration, English language skills)?
  2. Do they use predefined matrices to assess skills specific to each technology (for example: Dreyfus)?
  3. Is their recruitment process 100% Agile and data-driven?
  4. Is customer relationship governance implemented from the first staffing position? What best practices, guidance, maturity models, and metrics do they have in place?
  5. Do they provide a dashboard that allows you to follow the staffing funnel at all times in real time (list of candidates, evaluation of technical and relational skills, etc.) and the progress of the selected team?
  6. Do they have indicators on the average seniority of employees, the average duration of the assignment per project of tech talent staff, the cycle time (time to hire / time to staff)?
  7. Are the evaluators who are in charge of staffing specialized for the needs of the specific market, and regularly trained and aligned to improve the benchmarking tools?
  8. Do they have tools and data for evaluating and improving their staffing process compared to the market for other clients?

About turnover:

  1. Do they have data on the turnover rate by business sector? By job?
  2. Will you have visibility on the turnover of external teams involved with your product?
  3. How do they ensure that turnover does not impact the organization of the team, the missions of each member, and the delivery times?
  4. What actions are taken if people with key product skills go absent with little notice?
  5. What is the duration of onboarding?
  6. How do they measure the evolution of the maturity of the whole team?

About governance:

  1. What steps do they take to ensure that systems comply with your company’s policies and standards?
  2. Can they establish the back-planning of deliveries, taking into account the allocated budget and the requested capacities?
  3. What process is in place to anticipate risks and deploy corrective/preventive actions?
  4. What performance indicators are in place to monitor the progress to be made to achieve the business objective?
  5. How do they coordinate required resources between internal teams and external teams to develop the product (for example: tools, licenses, test environment, etc.)?
  6. What tools do they make available for you to monitor the progress of the product in real time?

About Infrastructure and DevOps:

  1. How do they guarantee the availability and resilience of the infrastructure in the event of a breakdown or incident?
  2. How do they handle application deployments and validation testing before going live?
  3. How are automated tests implemented?
  4. How are code versions and updates managed to ensure continuity of service?
  5. How are large-scale deployments performed without disrupting service?

About cybersecurity:

  1. What security measures should you take to protect your systems?
  2. What are the security measures to take when the infrastructure depends on the Cloud?
  3. How should you detect, respond to, and anticipate incidents?
  4. What dispositions guarantee the security of networks and servers?
  5. When and why is penetration testing conducted?

About the architecture:

  1. How do they organize the architecture of applications and data?
  2. How are APIS documented and tested?
  3. Are they familiar with SOLID principles?
  4. What are the processes to follow for the architecture to be resilient?
  5. How do they ensure that IT resources are consolidated?

About development practices:

  1. Can they detail the development standards according to the language used?
  2. Do they have a VCS strategy?
  3. How do they manage technical debt?
  4. How do they design a debugging strategy?
  5. What is their peer-programming strategy?

About the product:

  1. Are OKRs part of their strategy? What is their interest?
  2. What are the means to be deployed to achieve Product Market Fit?
  3. How do they measure user satisfaction?
  4. What KPIs are used to ensure that the level of productivity of the team remains constant?
  5. For whom, with whom, and how do they organize a Design Sprint?

These questions aim to guarantee your continuous visibility during collaboration as well as to ensure that your delivery deadlines are met while helping your team to develop their skills.

Tech Talent Retention: What to Remember

The question is not so much to know which professions will be replaced by new technologies and Artificial Intelligence, but how professions will adapt to those changes to make the most of them and gain in efficiency.

However, this adaptation can be supported by the company, which would make it possible to connect its objectives to those of its collaborators.

Before undertaking any action, an inventory of available skills is essential. These skills must reflect advanced technical proficiency, an excellent knowledge of business issues, and know-how that combines flexibility, team spirit, and rigor.

To offer appropriate training plans, this inventory must be mirrored with the technologies on which the company wishes to position itself.

However, a sustained recruitment strategy must be implemented to continue to bring in new skills internally.

To overcome recruitment delays, tech leaders can call on strategic partners who are responsible for offering them specific skills or Agile IT teams, both immediately operational.

The benefits include cost savings, time savings, internal skills development, reduced time-to-market.

Whether it relates to a training program, outsourcing to a partner, or both, a thoughtful retention strategy will help you anticipate the risks associated with departures, to ensure the continuity of your activities, and to maintain the interest of your teammates.

And you – what actions have you taken to reduce the turnover rate in your team?

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