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The Digital Talent War

Author: Umran Mehmood

The shortage of digital skills in the MENA market place is unprecedented and pinpointing the drivers and factors behind the shortage in skills is very easy to identify. The usage of Social, Search, Mobile, Digital and Analytics in companies globally is high especially in western countries who are pioneers as well as front runners in utilizing such tools in the market place. Furthermore the MENA region, as an emerging market is still playing catch up, the main reason being is the education required for clients to see the ROI is high and lengthy, furthermore this region will always be playing catch up against more developed markets, instead of innovating and leading.

This skills shortage is very unhealthy as it’s creating a digital talent war where agencies are facing competition from a host companies outside their domain, such as publishers, tech and new emerging companies who are all vying for the same talent. The big gorillas such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are a magnet for digitally savvy candidates and can tempt even the most loyal employees to their regional operations, now even the big management consultancies are getting in on the act. This increasing demand and limited supply of digital talent is not healthy, it’s creating a huge pressure on the organisation.

Agencies are getting squeezed on their margins by marketers demanding more and more, for example content, content and content for their platforms, this in turn provides a tougher challenge when competing on salaries as their margins are already squeezed by doing more for less. Furthermore the expectations from candidates is also on the rise which is proven ever harder to manage there expectations.

The current approach to developing staff is disjointed and it’s alarmingly that training efforts are not aligned to the overall digital strategy. This results in a huge training programme and re-skilling of employees on a periodic basis if they wish to stay relevant in the fast changing digital environment - the industry is falling short.

Digital is beginning to dominate so it’s time agencies improve their training efforts significantly from internal and external training such as seminars to educational programs. To put it simply, for the agency this translates into more business and improving their client retention rates, retaining their talent, growing and improving their culture. For the employee it will mean broadening of their knowledge base, improving their career opportunities, job satisfaction and salary.

Throughout the region HR are not driving the digital skills development it’s senior leadership, whose time already is at a premium – perhaps hiring a digital ambassador may plug this gap in assisting in the development alongside HR and the leadership team, this kind of proactive move and initiative will be a significant step forward in the right direction.

Another important step to plug the gap is to develop and create stronger alliances and partnerships at grass roots level especially for instance, with universities. The educational system needs to address and introduce more courses and qualifications around Media, Digital, Social etc from Secondary school level up until universities to encourage the development of the new breed of talent for years to come, furthermore potentially funding and investing in students in return for 4 to 5 years’ service with the company upon graduation. In Silicon Valley you will be surprised to learn that the top firms are all offering more internships at the freshman year of college! Now, not every company can be like the big guns of Silicon Valley nor should it try which isn’t a big deal but if it can focus on internships, training programs, bespoke courses, an innovative hiring process (ie gamification) to honesty and openness with its employees this should lead to an easier time in hiring talent.

Our experiences tell us talent is drawn to organisations that are willing to invest, develop, nurture, promote and reward appropriately.

Hiring digital talent across the board is not easy, our clients know this and so do we! We are trying to stay ahead of the curve when tapping up passive talent globally with the most in demands skills required in the region, furthermore staying abreast of the latest trends and insights from the US and Europe so we know we can anticipate what the next big thing regionally will be.