The war for talent in tech

Written by
Karam Filfilan

29 Aug 2016

29 Aug 2016 • by Karam Filfilan

With more than 70,000 employees globally and revenue of $24.7bn in 2015, EMC is a technology giant – and it’s set to expand. In October 2015, the organisation announced a $67bn acquisition by Dell, which is the biggest technology acquisition deal of all time.

Expected to be finalised by October this year, the merger will lead to inevitable change among the company’s workforce, with senior HR director Jennie Room at the forefront of the organisation’s UK and European operations, looking after 2,000 UK employees.

However, for now, talk of the merger is off limits. Despite this, Room is keen to talk about how EMC is building its talent capabilities for the near future.

“We’re always trying to look ahead of the curve, as the future – particularly in the tech sector – isn’t always obvious,” says Room as we meet at EMC’s UK headquarters in London.

“Our industry moves so fast, which means HR faces a real challenge to be able to respond to some of the curveballs that come at us daily, whether it’s responding to the business’ needs for talent or retaining and developing our existing employees. There is a continual war for talent for really top-class employees,” she adds. 

Changing workforce demographics

Exploring this further, EMC recently surveyed 500 companies looking at IT skills shortages and why technology employees leave the sector or move jobs. It found that while 81% of employees believed their organisation has the right skills to support digital transformation, 47% felt that the vision to create long-term digital structures was missing. The result? Two-thirds (66%) were looking to move employers.

“There is a seismic shift in the digital transformation agenda, and businesses, whether they like it or not, have to embrace this change,” agrees Room.

“Technology is affecting how we work, what work we do and how employees are supported in their work, so HR needs to be very aware of that change.”

Room cites the example of younger employees viewing mobile working as a ‘right’, shunning email in favour of communicating through social networks such as WhatsApp and Snapchat and blurring the line between the working and social day. EMC itself offers employees flexible work schedules, including commuter and work-at-home benefits.

“We now have ‘working moments’, as opposed to your day job and your home life. Technology has ended that distinction,” she insists.

This younger, more agile, workforce is the target of EMC’s recruitment, as it looks to diversify its employee profile. According to Room, the technology provider is targeting pre- and post-graduate talent through new channels, such as partnerships with start-up incubator Entrepreneurial Spark, to attract the next generation of technology experts. It is also exploring the idea of offering entry-level programmes.

However, in a fierecely competitive jobs market, and with digital companies having such a small pool of highly sought-after talent from which to recruit, finding the right people to work in developing areas can often be a challenge.

A recent report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that the UK will need another 745,000 workers with digital skills by 2017, with the technology skills gap costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost income. 

Prioritising quality over speed

This competition for talent means that many technology organisations can lose focus amid constant recruitment. But, at EMC, success isn’t measured in terms of numbers.

“At EMC, it’s about the quality of talent overall. Our best measure of success is a combination of individual talent and the organisation’s collective achievement,” says Room.

For her, HR has a vital part to play in making EMC an attractive place to work, both internally and externally. She sees her role as twofold: first, as leader of the HR function and its strategy, but also as a market-facing outlet for the company to demonstrate its corporate and social responsibility programmes, particularly through EMC’s partnerships with charities such as The Prince’s Trust, for which EMC has raised £1m.

Wellbeing is also an important focus, particularly given the changing nature of work and the significant increase in mobile working environments in the technology industry. 

“It’s not only about people’s physical wellbeing, it’s also the mental health side,” says Room. “Embracing technological change impacts our employees’ everyday lives and how they do their work, so wellbeing support is vital.” 

HR for HR

This focus extends to the HR team too. Room reveals she has taken on a new role as the HR senior lead across Europe, the UK and Ireland. The position allows her, and a colleague in Switzerland, to support EMC HR professionals across a range of problems, personal and work-related.

The role is not operational, but an opportunity for EMC’s HR community to receive extra help when dealing with exceptional issues.

“The nature of HR is that we often find ourselves giving oxygen to everyone else first, rather than looking after ourselves and then supporting the business. We’re in a time of constant change and we need to make sure we’re supporting our HR colleagues through this,” says Room.

As someone who has been at the forefront of HR in the tech industry for nearly 20 years, does Room believe the function needs enhanced support?

“We want to aid our HR people to give the support our business needs. We’ve introduced other initiatives for the functions around development, with structured career paths. It’s about having both arms around HR, from wellbeing to talent and development,” she says.

“Career paths are not linear. As employees and candidates come into an industry, they shouldn’t feel they have to be on a particular path. I thought I was on a path, knowing where I was going, but another door opened and a mentor identified something in me that I hadn’t recognised, leading to a very different career direction. Don’t ever limit your options.