In The Digital Skills Pipeline, A Shift Away From Traditional Hiring Modes

Sep 29, 2021 

Enterprise Tech

In The Digital Skills Pipeline, A Shift Away From Traditional Hiring Modes

Digital transformation, in all its many forms, is here, and everybody want in. Executives are throwing money at it, and are ready to throw even more. But whoever leads it or participate in it needs to know what’s going on, both with the business, and what technologies make sense. Where will we find such people? 

That’s the question raised in a report released by Alliantgroup, which finds C-suite executives are anxious to move quickly into digital, but need help. Their top concern, cited by 42%, is gaining access to more talent. In addition, 31% said not hiring the right talent was one of the biggest mistakes they made when undergoing a digital transformation project. 

Although 24% said they plan to invest in the community or STEM education programs to fill their technical talent pipeline, these hiring pushes will not be immediate. 

There’s somewhat of a silver lining to the Covid crisis in this regard. Companies looking for talent can go to places beyond the traditional tech centers such as the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle. ‘C-suite executives are now aligning their hiring priorities with more significant migration trends in the US following the shift to remote work, the report’s authors state. Respondents noted finding skilled talent as the number one area that will accelerate digital transformation at 42%, in addition to the top action of expanding tech talent recruiting to outside typical high-tech regions (e.g., San Francisco, New York, and Austin) at 30%. A quarter, 25%, even reported opening up offices in these non-high-tech locations to support their initiatives. 

Still, the talent marketplace has been going through a dramatic shift, which may upend the traditional arrangements seen between employers and professionals. “As digital transformation accelerates and we

experience generational shifts, professionals will increasingly desire better work-life balance and freedom from legacy in-office models,” says Saum Mathur, chief product, technology and AI officer with Paro. “Consultancies and others that are reliant on legacy models are struggling to adapt to this new reality, and marketplaces are only furthering these models’ disruption. Three to five years ago, the gig economy pioneers offered customers finite, task-based services that didn’t require extensive experience and enabled flexible scheduling. With continued shifts in the technical and cultural landscape, the gig economy has been extended into professional services, which is powered by highly experienced subject matter experts of all levels.” 

Corporate culture needs to be receptive to the changes wrought by digital transformation. Forty-one percent of executives in the Alliantgroup survey have encountered employee resistance, while 32$ say they have had “the wrong team or department overseeing initiatives.” One-third report there is “too much red tape to innovate successfully.” Another 26% even admitted their company culture doesn’t embrace change.

The money is flowing. Half (50%) of the C-suite executives surveyed have budgeted up to nearly $5 million in digital transformation for the next two years, while one quarter (25%) have budgeted between $1 million to just below $5 million. Two-thirds of C-suite executives, 65%, report having between one and four digital transformation projects to be completed in the next two years, a sizable percentage. 

At the same time, 15% had no idea whether any digital transformation projects would be completed. To fill this gap, 38% of C-suite executives said they are prioritizing investment in vendors or third parties to implement new technologies and enable their digital transformation efforts over the next two years. 

Machines may come to the rescue. With talent hard to come by, and organizational forces potentially inhibiting digital transformation, it may take automation to achieve automation. “Enterprises need to free their developers to do what they do best – innovate and write cool code,” says Stephen DeWitt, CEO at CloudBees. “That’s what they want to do and it’s what you want them to be doing. If they are mired in manual processes and infrastructure maintenance, they will get bored, frustrated and leave you. And, they are very expensive to replace. When that happens, you end up with open requirements for new hires and competing for talent in a highly competitive market.” 

“Are the tools you’re using given your employees opportunities to learn and grow? Are they giving teams the intelligent insights into operational and delivery efficiency to help reduce cost and enable innovation?” DeWitt points to cloud resources as the way organizations can address these concerns. “When systems are intelligent — that is that they have learned, via machine learning — to be responsive to environments, they can identify and even act to eliminate much of the hassle and toil that sucks up so much of developer and IT time.”



Inside the War for Talent: What Holding Companies Are Doing to Attract Job Seekers

Oct 18, 2021


Inside the War for Talent: What Holding Companies Are Doing to Attract Job Seekers

The pandemic remains one of the great disruptors the advertising industry has ever dealt with. Aside from throwing the global economy for a loop, it sped up the rate of ecommerce adoption, launched Zoom and other video conferencing apps to the top of the technology food chain and, most significantly, it altered the employment habits of agencies and staff around the world. Many agencies furloughed employees as brands slashed budgets during global uncertainty in 2020, and others decided to make waves of layoffs. Many of those frustrated by the industry decided that they would get out while they could as the “great resignation” took hold.

As the economy started to figure itself out, with businesses pivoting to remote work and ecommerce, agencies started hiring again, but this time in a candidate market, giving employees more choice in employment. For some agencies, the new economy opened up new opportunities, as they realized they could be more flexible and cull talent from anywhere to handpick top candidates. Employees realized that they could now make themselves available to agencies that might have previously been out of reach, due to geography. It also made the job market much more competitive, as agencies had to get more creative to grab the best and most diverse talent available.

“Right now is the most exciting time to be looking for a job and to be looking for talent,” Mojo Supermarket founder and creative director Mo Said explained during Adweek’s Elevate: Independent Agencies discussion. “A little bit ago, all of the smart people ran to big tech companies because they wanted more direct access and influence over the work. Now we’re kind of seeing the blow back from that because they want to go work at a creative company. So, you’re getting all of this talent with different experiences for the first time.”

The war to grab that talent is intense, as some agencies are being outbid by upwards of $50,000 for the right person. Another agency told Adweek it upped starting salaries for junior employees by $20,000. Huge CEO Mat Baxter told Adweek earlier this year that “in 20 years, this is the toughest talent market I’ve ever seen. Ever.” Shops of all sizes, from small independents to holding company giants, are having to adapt to new ways of hiring.

One might think that with the backing of well-funded holding companies, their agencies could handpick any talent they want compared to the leaner independents that might not be able to afford to dish top salaries. In reality, the holding companies are in competition with those independents because compensation isn’t always the most important factor. For this story, Adweek spoke to the major holding companies about what they’re doing to retain talent.

IPG didn’t respond to requests to participate in this story.

WPP makes career mobility easier

To keep people within the company, WPP has democratized mobility with its Career Explorer program, allowing its people to move across brands and around the network.

“We did everything from rolling back any restrictions, caps on salary increases. We made it where people didn’t have to notify their manager until they got to offer stage,” global head of talent acquisition Shannon Moorman told Adweek. “We posted all of our open roles in one place on and have socialized and promoted it across our global network and encourage people to go out if they feel like they reached a ceiling in their current company, they want to learn something new or take a new opportunity within the network.”

WPP has also broadened its talent search with several programs. It has invested in over 60 partnerships worldwide around diversity, equity and inclusion, reaching outside the conventional places where the company would typically find marketing and communications talent. It’s hitting HBCUs, working with Black talent networks like the Lagrant Foundation in the U.S. and the Brixton Finishing Academy and D&AD in the U.K.

The company is also investing in multiple scholarship programs around the globe for underrepresented predominantly Black talent. For early career employees, WPP has a NextGen Leaders program, a 10-week virtual learning series for college students, recent graduates and those with under two years of experience in any field.

Publicis balances retention and recruitment

Publicis sees the need for flexibility and diversity within its ranks, since its talent demands it. It also puts importance on the expectation of equitable experiences. Geraldine White, chief diversity officer of Publicis Groupe U.S., said that the holding company is focusing on leadership that is both inclusive and makes employees feel a sense of belonging at work.

Employees’ overall contributions to the business should be valued more than the volume of work they produce.

Geraldine White, chief diversity officer, Publicis Groupe U.S,

White stated the industry is focused on diversifying talent because they know the incredible power found in bringing together diverse backgrounds, thinking and ways of working. “While this is not a new insight, we need to carefully navigate what I call the representation-retention paradox: when an organization becomes so closely focused on representation in recruitment that it loses sight of retention, sentiment and creating growth and sustainably equitable environments for talent to thrive in.”

Supporting employees to create a better work/life balance is of importance as well, and Publicis has bolstered offerings and benefits across a broad spectrum, including launching a Black Talent Career Summit, utilizing its 14-plus business resources groups, creating more flexible time off policies, and evolving its benefit offerings to include adoption or surrogacy assistance, childcare, tuition reimbursement, healthcare and insurance and charitable match programs.

In terms of recruitment, Publicis has programs including a multicultural talent pipeline program and virtual recruitment events. It has partnered with HBCUs and other universities and has talent partnerships with trade organizations, and has revamped its recruitment and hiring approach with new mandatory inclusive hiring and recruiting trainings, implemented technology to improve its candidate pipeline strength of Black and diverse candidates in-market, and built a dashboard that will allow the company to measure the impact of these deliverables over time.

Omnicom taps partnerships to find talent

An Omnicom spokesperson said that given the competitive marketplace, in addition to supporting industry programs like AAF and the 4A’s, many of its agencies are also strategically tapping into non-traditional sources of talent. For example, RAPP created an Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) that uses mentorship skills-based learnings to groom creative talent that didn’t graduate from a four-year college or university.

“In addition, Omnicom is reaffirming our D&I efforts externally by continuing to support industry programs that provide educational and career opportunities for diverse talent,” the spokesperson said. Omnicom works with AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Program, The Lagrant Foundation, 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program and Adcolor.

Recruiting tactics by Omnicom involve attracting talent through the virtual world, like online assessment and training programs, and agency Ketchum’s re-imagining of its Instagram channel into a culture hub. It also has a long-running Omnicom University to build and train its leadership, and has many employee resource groups.

Dentsu stresses flexibility 

Adweek spoke with Dentsu International CEO Wendy Clark about a number of topics for a story broader than just talent, but she gave some insights into Dentsu’s strategy for attracting and retaining.

There’s an unspoken contract here about how you work, when you work and the ways you want to work. We’ve got to be much more fluid, much more flexible.

Wendy Clark, CEO, Dentsu International

In the U.K., Dentsu, which has a 45,000 person workforce with a median age of 27, is targeting a group of people they call “the returners” as they’re looking at those who left the ad industry who may be open to coming back even if it’s in a part-time capacity. This group includes retirees who still want to work and parents who left work following the birth of their child. “We’re meeting people where they are on the terms they want.”

To retain talent, Clark said the leadership team has gotten more hands on, increasing its visibility within the company and adding transparency during monthly townhalls where Clark takes questions from employees. The result is Dentsu’s highest employee engagement score from the past three years.

The HTD Revolution: Hire-Train-Deploy

Oct 1, 2021


The HTD Revolution: Hire-Train-Deploy

In nearly 25 years in the education sector, I’ve seen a lot of crazy ideas. Online textbook rental by the hour didn’t exactly encourage close reading. There was the tinfoil hat that located and measured brain activity of top-performing employees (as prompted by various stimuli) so patterns could be mapped against brain activity of job applicants; candidates who matched (and who tolerated the tinfoil hat) would be ushered through to final interviews. And there were the ex-Googlers with no background in education who wanted teachers to double as software developers to provide every student with a completely individualized learning experience, starting with a San Francisco Software-as-a-School. Oh wait, that company ended up raising $176M.

Crazy isn’t the sole province of startups. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp famously dropped $1 billion on Amplify, a similar effort to convince teachers they’d be better off replacing themselves with technology. Disney has also tried to open schools. I’ll have seen it all when Disney finally opens High School Musical: The High School, which would probably enroll more students than High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The High School. Either high school would put on a heck of a musical, although what on earth would they call it?

In education, the simplest solution is often the most successful. Two decades ago, online degree programs made it easier than ever for 40M Americans with some college credits but no degree to earn a valuable credential. A decade ago, online program managers began allowing traditional colleges and universities to compete for those students. In the last few years, tuition benefit programs have provided an additional retention tool to employers with large frontline workforces while holding out hope of, one day, providing career-relevant upskilling.

But none of these are a simple answer to the ultimate question of Education, Employment, and Everything: what product or service can really move the needle on socioeconomic mobility and rekindle the American Dream by providing direct pathways to good first jobs or better jobs for tens of millions of Americans? The answer requires quantum leaps in affordability, time to completion, and employability. But accredited postsecondary institutions aren’t jumping for different models, let alone leaping – they’re happy enough to get back to campus and avoid mask mandate blow-ups. So viable answers are more likely to look like apprenticeships where, in lieu of the current tuition-debt-classroom industrial complex, job seekers are first hired and provided with economic security: “hire first, train later” instead of “train first, then hope to get hired.” 

While American apprentices have increased in number over the past generation, as a percentage of the workforce (0.3%) we’re below where we were after World War II and still only one-eighth the level of the UK, Canada, and Australia. (Germany and Switzerland are in a Meister Class: 10-15x better.) The reason is that we’ve done very little to expand apprenticeships beyond their cozy home in the construction and industrial trades.

Why has the U.S. done such a dismal job growing apprenticeships in financial services, energy, healthcare, transportation/logistics, and, of course, tech? There are four main reasons:

1)     Government policy: failure to fund the related technical instruction component of apprenticeships;

2)     Resistance from unions: dominant in construction and industrial trades and therefore in apprenticeship policy setting – including State Apprenticeship Agencies – and reluctant to agree to new initiatives that might reduce funding or influence;

3)     Growing hiring friction: the bar for hiring inexperienced workers is high and getting higher (which explains 10M unfilled jobs), and workers don’t come less experienced than new apprentices;

4)     But the biggest reason may be that most good jobs nowadays don’t mesh particularly well with the classic apprenticeship model.

Here’s how a U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) is supposed to work:

·      Employer hires apprentice, just like any new employee (and by the way, so-called pre-apprenticeships where you’re not hired? There’s a non-misleading term for that: training);

·      Apprentice participates in a structured program of related technical instruction (RTI);

·      But from day one, the majority of the apprentice’s time is on the job, participating in on-the-job training (OJT), otherwise known as work. Typically, apprentices work four days per week and do one day of RTI.

This model works well in construction and industrial trades. From day one, apprentices accompany skilled workers on the job, observing, assisting, often holding tools. But over the past generation – and particularly over the past year and a half – employers in other sectors have transformed their internal systems, as well as their processes for interacting with customers, suppliers, and employees, from informal and manual to formal software-based processes available remotely. Most good jobs now involve managing some business function through software or software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms.

The rap on RAPs is that SaaS jobs aren’t as big on observing, assisting, and holding tools. Think about digital marketing (i.e., managing campaigns and spend via Google AdWords and Facebook Ads Manager). It’s pretty clear what the RTI would be for a digital marketing apprenticeship (i.e., learning these platforms). It’s not at all clear what the OJT would comprise. Looking over the shoulder of an experienced user is unproductive at best, and probably annoying and creepy.

When it comes to platform skills like Google AdWords, Epic (electronic health records), Workday (HR), Zendesk (customer service), ServiceNow (IT), Hubspot (marketing), Atlassian (product/project management), Xero (accounting), MuleSoft (application development), and Splunk (data analytics), new employees are either competent (at least with certain components/modules), or they’re lost. And they’re not going to find their way by looking over someone’s shoulder four days a week. So what we need is a next-generation apprenticeship model that moves RTI (for platform skills) ahead of OJT. And because that means more time before a new worker can actually work, it requires additional investment by the employer.

Fortunately, digital transformation of the workforce has already produced an answer: the most promising simple answer to the ultimate question of Education, Employment, and Everything. The model is Hire-Train-Deploy or HTD and it could revolutionize how most Americans start their careers or begin to climb the socioeconomic ladder.

The 800-pound gorilla among SaaS platforms is Salesforce, the operating system of American business. And because the Salesforce ecosystem is so well defined (unlike, say, software development, data analytics, or cybersecurity), it’s not only the poster child for America’s skills gap (if not poster child, perhaps milk carton with missing workers), it’s also a great way to understand the evolution of HTD.

While the Salesforce skills gap is massive and growing (300-400K open jobs in the U.S., another 9.3M globally in the next five years), colleges and universities are barely lifting a finger. Achieve searched course catalogs across all U.S. four-year colleges and universities and found only 15 offering courses including Salesforce. But don’t blame Salesforce. Four of the 15 colleges are HBCUs working with Salesforce via the HBCUforce program. Beyond HBCUforce, the company has demonstrated a willingness to work with any interested institution (e.g., helping Dallas College embed a Salesforce certificate into a project management course) and has done more than any other platform to develop and distribute relevant last-mile training (e.g., Trailhead and Pathfinder programs).

So like many labor market participants, Salesforce is no longer pinning its talent hopes on colleges and universities. This is partly due to classic higher education inattention, disinterest, and inertia. It’s also a result of hiring friction; few employers are interested in hiring candidates who’ve just completed a training program, even if they have a Trailhead certificate. They’re looking for relevant work experience.

Salesforce solutions firms like K2 and Bitwise – i.e., companies that configure and manage Salesforce implementations for clients – have tried to solve this problem by linking work experience to training. Both firms offer tuition-based online training, although Bitwise scholarships students who can’t pay. High performing students are invited to participate in an apprenticeship where they’re hired and then receive Salesforce training and work experience on client projects. According to Bitwise co-founder and CEO Jake Soberal, since launching its Salesforce track two years ago, Bitwise has hired over 400 apprentices, the majority of whom are underrepresented minorities.

This model (effectively, Train-Hire-Train-Deploy) is reflected in Salesforce’s partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring our Heroes program. In May 2020, Salesforce began providing free training and certifications to veterans and military spouses. Then, befitting its name, Hiring our Heroes hired heroes and arranged for relevant work experience via employer partners. Salesforce funded this Military Fellowship – including hero salaries – through a grant. According to Ann Weeby, Salesforce’s VP of Workforce Innovation and Head of Military, so far 120 veterans and milspouses – about half underrepresented minorities – have received fellowships. 92% have received job offers from employer partners. Salesforce’s first $1M grant produced $4.5M in annual salaries. Readers of this column will be gobsmacked to learn there appears to be no difference in outcomes between fellows with degrees and without.

K2, Bitwise, and Salesforce’s Military Fellowship are important milestones because they elimate all four impediments to apprenticeship expansion. They don’t rely on public funding or unions. They solve hiring friction by building work experience into a training program. And they move RTI ahead of OJT. 

An even simpler version is Hire-Train-Deploy. Whether or not candidates are asked to pay tuition, asking them to spend dozens of hours training before being hired creates uncertainty and may discourage qualified candidates, or candidates who can’t forego income in order to train. Hire-Train-Deploy simply: (1) hires high potential talent without platform skills; (2) last-mile trains on platform skills; (3) delivers relevant work experience through deployments on client projects. Salesforce is building on the Military Fellowship’s success by partnering with K2 on a new Talent Alliance Fellowship where apprentices are hired upfront, then trained, then deployed on client projects.

The power of Hire-Train-Deploy has been evident in the rapid growth of Revature, which started with software development and has moved into Salesforce and other tech stacks. For several years now, Revature has been hiring, training, and deploying new Salesforce administrators and developers to clients, launching nearly 700 new Salesforce careers. And because Hire-Train-Deploy truly levels the playing field for talent, HTD cohorts are often majority underrepresented minorities. By leveraging HTD, Bitwise and Revature have changed more lives for the better than all but a handful of much better known nonprofits operating at the intersection of education and employment.

Salesforce is now welcoming Cloud for Good, a new Achieve portfolio company, to the HTD party. Cloud for Good provides Salesforce solutions to dozens of clients, primarily in the nonprofit and higher education sectors, and is launching Talent for Good, a new HTD pathway that provides an additional advantage: newly trained Salesforce professionals work on Cloud for Good project teams for as long as necessary until clients want to hire and mangage them directly. According to Cloud for Good CEO Tal Frankfurt, “what we’re trying to do with Talent for Good is eliminate friction for both job seekers and employers. Talent for Good apprentices are hired and paid a market salary and benefits, then trained on Salesforce and industry-specific skills, then deployed on client projects as part of Cloud for Good teams. From talking with them, I can tell you that Cloud for Good clients are pretty excited about the opportunity to access good new talent – particularly diverse new Salesforce talent – especially since they’ll be able to see their work before making a hiring decision.”

If you’d asked me about HTD five years ago, I’d have guessed you were talking about Howard the Duck. Unquestionably the worst film of my childhood and one of costliest box office flops of all time, Howard is an incredibly irritating animatronic duck from outer space who is accidentally beamed to Cleveland where he meets a girl, manages a rock band, and fights the Dark Overlord of the Universe. The film was universally panned for being dumb, hard to watch, and completely inappropriate given its PG rating. Roger Ebert said making the movie was “insane.” Mel Brooks may have been HTD’s only fan, promising “anybody who’s in Howard the Duck can be in [Spaceballs].”

If the old HTD was crazy, the new HTD – Hire-Train-Deploy – is anything but. Thanks to the HTD revolution, apprenticeships are on their way to becoming a standard point of entry to Salesforce and many other sectors, providing freer and clearer pathways to good jobs. Many of America’s next great education companies will be HTD, producing millions of next-generation apprentices and dwarfing the current Registered Apprenticeship Program unless the government provides companies with a good reason to register. Given its simplicity and scalability, HTD may be the least crazy education idea you’ll hear for some time.