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Article | Beyond Data

Do you know how to attract the digital talent you need?

Compensation Strategy & Design
Beyond Data

By Michiel Klompen | December 17, 2019

Digital talent is hard to find and often responds to different incentives. How should you be responding?
Digital talent is hard to find and often responds to different incentives. Any insights about how hiring and compensation packages can be made more attractive is a vital addition to the HR toolkit

The release of this year’s Artificial Intelligence and Digital Talent compensation survey contains reminders that existing trends are continuing as well as one very important piece of information. When it comes to the existing trends, everyone knows that skilled employees who are proficient in technologies such as blockchain or machine learning are scarce. And that those employees tend to be motivated by more than only their salary. So what is the important piece of information?

Simply put, it is that organisations need to think carefully about how they develop pay and reward programmes if they are to attract and retain digital talent and keep them engaged once they have done so. Common ways of attracting scarce talent involved offering higher and higher salaries in competition with each other. Research indicates that this ‘race to the top’ is no longer the key driver.

Developing a new programme

The Artificial Intelligence and Digital Talent compensation survey showed that a staggering 63% of participating organizations are already differentiating rewards, benefits or talent programmes for digital talent. There is a striking spread of different ways of doing this, from 52% of organizations who offer alternative working arrangements, the 40% who deliver an enhanced level of base pay, to the 34% who provide enhanced learning and development opportunities down to the 28% who run dedicated models of career progression

of participating organizations are already differentiating rewards

Research suggests that adjusting base pay selectively allows the organisation to offer a premium for skills which are seen as being particularly valuable. While this will change according to numerous factors, not least the nature of the organisation’s business and the skills within it, these are generally artificial intelligence, blockchain and big data analytics, as well as experience of developing mobile applications.

Which aspects of work are rewarded under a new remuneration programme also merit some further thought. Willis Towers Watson’s SkillsVue software provides HR managers with the opportunity to add a skill layer on top of the compensation data so they can decide which digital skills should attract the highest rewards. Applying this thinking can make sure that money is spent where it is needed on the talent that is desired most.

Results suggested that desirable skills would command a 10 to 20% premium, but it is hugely significant that cash compensation ranks second on the attraction chart and third on the retention chart. What is significant is what appears in first place.

In the case of attraction of talent, the ability to have an impact on the organisation’s performance is most important. When it comes to retention, it is the chance to take part in interesting, challenging or varied work. The fact that cash compensation appears in the top four suggests it is important, but the fact that it is not the most important in either should call for companies to think more carefully.


Most important factors for attracting digital talent globally

  1. 01

    Ability to have a real impact on the organization's performance.

  2. 02

    Cash compensation.

  3. 03

    Reputation of the organization as a great place to work.

  4. 04

    Interesting/ challenging/varied work.


Most important factors for retaining digital talent globally

  1. 01

    Interesting/ challenging/varied work.

  2. 02

    Ability to have a real impact on the organization's performance.

  3. 03

    Cash compensation.

  4. 04

    Flexible work arrangements.

Defining and overcoming obstacles

It is unsurprising that a scarcity of talent emerged as the defining reason why people struggle to recruit, but there are others that are nearly as important. If a company is not immediately recognised as a digital brand, or the industry itself is not recognised as a natural home for digital talent, recruitment gets significantly harder. Employees can also be attracted to workplaces which already have teams with a similar digital skillset and which have a well-defined digital strategy.

The survey findings suggest having a clear path for growth and promotion may solve some of these problems, but there are other elements to review, all of which involve some form of compensation. Anchoring digital talent at the higher end of the salary band proved popular, as did anchoring it at a higher market percentile. Retention and hiring bonuses were also popular with a significant number of respondents.

If we are looking at the digital roles for which organizations are paying the highest salaries, we see IT Architecture (Systems Design) to be in the top three for the Asia Pacific region, as well as Europe, Middle East and Africa and Latin America. For IS and Cyber Security Development, we see it is among the top paid roles in Asia Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa but is not in the top three for the Americas.

There, the focus lies more on Digital Strategy and Front- and back-end development. The challenge of attracting and retaining talent might be prevalent across all countries and regions, the precise nature of them differs.

Where next for the fourth industrial revolution

These hiring challenges go beyond the financial and technology industries. Every business has a website and every market trader has a card reader, so as this fourth industrial revolution gathers pace, digital skills will be in much more demand. The idea that business does not need to worry is an illusion.

With new generations of digital natives for whom salary is an important driver but by no means the most significant, and where employee loyalty is a distant memory, HR managers everywhere need actionable intelligence of reports such as this to inform benefit and remuneration policies. They could make a vital difference to almost every organisation and bring in new talent and new ideas that ready it for the challenges ahead.


Global Product Lead SkillsVue & Artificial Intelligence and Digital Talent Survey

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