The New Age Of Acquiring And Retaining Talent

Bejal Patel, Arthur Lawrence’s Managing Partner for Talent Acquisition, talks about talent, the tech industry, DEI in the workplace and more in light of the recent survey by Wiley Edge on “Diversity in Tech: A Focus on Gen Z in 2023”.

29th Sep 2023, Houston, Texas: The US tech sector is a major driver of the global economy but faces a significant challenge in terms of workforce diversity. Despite a widely recognized digital skills shortage, efforts to introduce more Gen Z professionals, especially women, and historically underrepresented groups, into the workforce are crucial.

A recent study by Wiley Edge talks about diversity in tech, and the challenges faced by Gen Z candidates as the upcoming talent pool as well as employers across countries, industries, and cultures.

Arthur Lawrence’s Managing Partner for Talent Acquisition, Bejal Patel, shares his thoughts and takes on the research findings and how he approaches the nuances of the ever-fluid tech market based on his two decades of experience in tech talent consulting.

Q. Why are companies finding it challenging, now more than ever, to attract and retain talent?

Bejal Patel: Today’s economy is fluid and fast-adjusting. On top of it, companies need a whole new set of strategies to prepare for and hire Generation Z that is entering today’s workforce.

I believe one of the things organizations need to do today is take it back to the grassroots level. This means injecting themselves into the educational level and targeting the starting point of where this fresh talent is coming from. This would help them understand the anatomy of this new workforce better.

Several Fortune 500 companies are known for having scholarships and endowment funds as well as internship programs that help them attract the right talent. But retaining the right talent requires more than simply grooming and bringing the masses in – what it requires more, is being able to cultivate that talent according to the organizational needs, while ensuring that that talent feels intrinsically motivated and has a sense of self-worth. This doesn’t just mean offering a strong remuneration package. The workforce of today and tomorrow is looking for a healthy work-life balance and a work culture that aligns with their goals and aspirations.

Q. The Wiley Edge survey reports that 64% of Gen Z said that securing their first role was harder than they had expected. Why do you believe that is, and what can be done to make it easier for people to get started with their tech careers?

Bejal: Having been in the industry for several years now, and having seen it evolve up front on the daily, I do believe what the survey reports about this figure. To get a foot in the door today is not the same as how it was 10 or 15 or even 5 years ago.

In the previous decade, you could send your resume to Human Resources and would have a high chance of landing a job. That’s not the case today, where talent needs to approach a hiring organization in a non-linear fashion, and try to stand out on several more fronts than would suffice at the turn of the century. The onus of landing a job today, especially in the tech industry, is more on the candidates due to the simple fact that there is high competition.

Whether the candidates utilize tools such as LinkedIn to network like their life depended on it (which, to be honest, it sort of does because their livelihood depends on it), or they adopt a mindset of continuous learning and bagging certifications now more than ever. As a candidate, it is up to you to put your best foot forward, and multiple times, in multiple ways, to even get noticed.

I would take what’s mentioned in the report with a pinch of salt about Gen Z finding it hard to land their first role: in my experience and opinion, it should not take true top talent 12-18 months to find a job or their first role. However, I would also highlight that there indeed is a gap between what students are taught at colleges and universities and what the organizations require in their candidates, a gap which is often huge, something which is also reported in this survey. One thing they can definitely do is, like I mentioned earlier, touch base and circle back to the grassroots level. The institutes, too, should reach out for collaboration with industry players to narrow down this gap.

But, for candidates, an important aspect to keep in mind is that companies often hire for more than just capabilities – they often prioritize aptitude more than existing capabilities. For example, an employer looking for a Java resource may also want the candidate to have strong analytical capabilities, and would therefore prefer someone who has strong analytical capabilities and put them through a bootcamp for the more technical aspects of the job.

Q. According to the report, 58% of businesses are considering dropping the degree requirements for certain roles over the next year to open doors to more candidates:

a) What could be the benefits of this?

b) How could this backfire, if at all?

c) What can organizations do to mitigate any resentment from employees who pursued degrees before joining?

Bejal: I believe the biggest benefit is that you open up your candidate pool tremendously. A degree doesn’t necessarily mean the degree holder is talented – some very talented individuals get denied a job just because they don’t hold a degree. Secondly, it is heartening to see that businesses are realizing that not every skill and field requires a degree, and tech is one of those fields. 70-80% of people hired in the tech field in recent years have held degrees in something other than IT, and in fact in some cases, something as diverse and disconnected as music, accounting, and finance!

I am a political sciences and economics major, I have no degree in tech to begin with, but today I’m running a staffing company.

I can also, however, shed light on the reason why companies value degrees – having a degree reflects positively on the candidate, portraying them as someone who has perseverance, grit, consistency, and the will and discipline to see things through.

The second greatest benefit is that this would bring a huge inflow of diverse workforce, especially women and those who have been historically under-represented.

I do not believe that this can backfire in any major way. Sure, some older employees might feel a bit salty about having gone through rigorous 4 or 6 years before they were offered a job, but it’s an “it is what it is” kind of scenario; you can’t really do much about it. As said before, this is an ever-fluid industry, and this is one way that fluidity can be witnessed if it so happens.

I’ll share an example here, of someone I hired in the sales field, despite them having a psychology degree. I, too, had to evolve given the circumstances, and they did too. While I didn’t get a stellar salesperson out of them immediately, of course, the bet I took on them was for reasons that went beyond simply hiring a sales professional – the cost of hiring that individual despite a different degree, or no degree, so to speak, was more than covered by the other factors being met that I had on the agenda.

We, as organizations, must constantly evolve, and an essential part of that evolution includes taking and making tough decisions where necessary, especially regarding whom to hire and how to hire.

Q. Why must tech companies, or any organization for that matter, ensure that they have a diverse workforce?

Bejal: Apart from what the report has mentioned, the one thing that comes to mind, is the ideas perspective: candidates from diverse backgrounds bring in a diverse way of thinking and doing things, and hiring a diverse workforce brings in the kind of people who tend to be more collaborative. Both of these are benefits that are extremely valuable to any organization that wants to stay in the running for long and perform amazingly well year on year.

For example, if you’re building an app for a shopping mall, there’s a huge difference between male and female buyers, or buyers with children, and those without, and of course, there is a huge difference between those from differing cultural backgrounds. Therefore, having a diverse workforce in such scenarios would benefit the company immensely, and far more than a static copy-paste team would.

Q. How does an organization benefit from investing in upskilling and/or reskilling initiatives for its employees? Is it especially beneficial when it comes to creating more diverse entry-level talent pipelines?

Bejal: I think the number one thing is that whenever you’re upskilling or reskilling your employees directly, or when you invest in platforms for your employees to upskill and reskill themselves, the loyalty bias kicks in immediately; very strongly! Most good people give back at least a year or two if their employer invests in them.

The cost of such reskilling and/or upskilling training and education programs is not cheap, and therefore, most human beings naturally feel an obligation to give back to those who invest in them. Companies too have every right to get contracts signed that the employees opting for these programs must not leave before a certain time.

However, I’d definitely put in a greater amount of effort when interviewing candidates who would be coming in via this route. It’s a 50-50 chance with anything anyway, so it pays to be diligent, regardless of which side of the fence you’re on.

Media Queries

Shairose Ukanji

Head of Communication


Phone: +1 (713) 300-8544