The hottest jobs of today are all about digitalisation, and that is indicative of just how fast digital technology is being integrated into the global marketplace. Digital tools have become so pervasive in their applicability to various tasks and functions, that talents capable of wielding them can now find a place in almost any industry. Willis Towers Watson’s newly released IT Skills Matter Now Pulse Survey Report reveals that 84% of organisations around the world have experienced challenges in acquiring this talent. Globally, talent attraction has become 34% more difficult, while retention is at 28% across all industries. But this increases to 48% and 37%, respectively, for digital talent.1 The report also states that Big Data Analytics will be the most wanted IT skill in the next one to two years.

Figure 1: Challenges attracting and/or retaining professionals with IT skills

Market demand is much greater than the current supply of qualified digital talent. It’s no secret that digital talent seem to enjoy a more nomadic status, and there could be inherent reasons for this. The report clues us in on some of these factors – all of which have little to do with higher compensation. In Asia Pacific, the study notes that 69% of responding organisations pay higher than the market median for critical IT skills, and almost half offer a hefty sign-on bonus and above-standard market premiums. But, an overwhelming 83% focus their attraction and retention strategies on professional development and growth, and 71% offer exciting and challenging assignments. They also emphasise transparent and open communication as key to their development programs.

Interestingly, these reaffirm findings from Willis Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study1 that puts career growth and transparent communication as among the top drivers for attraction, retention and sustainable engagement of digital talent. Fair and competitive base pay remains the number one driver globally, but as shown in the IT Skills Matter Now Report, non-monetary incentives are starting to have a much greater impact.

Digitalisation is about culture and people, not just technology

We need to get back to basics in order to understand the effectiveness of non-monetary strategies. In Asia Pacific alone, over 50% of the workforce grew up with digital technology as a de facto part of life. These ‘digital natives’ have a head start in their ability to cope well with, and react quickly to continuous technological evolutions. Digitalisation may not be as radical for this group as it is for members of preceding generations. Furthermore, their experience with digitalisation has taught them that innovation is part of its nature. This may have even influenced many digital talents to prefer companies with a reputable culture of innovation.4 Such workplaces are often comfortable with – and even instigate – constant change and learning.

There are many organisations that continue to struggle with the concept of digitalisation – often assuming it is mainly about technology and processes. Digitally mature companies understand that it is largely founded on people and culture. This is why innovation needs to be home-grown as a core value and mind-set within organisations traversing the digital landscape.

Sixty-three percent of organisations in Asia Pacific actively foster this mind-set through programmes like ‘hackathons’, collaborative ‘ideafests’ and global recognition, to name a few.2 Such initiatives are not only advantageous for sustaining the idea machine, but can also help employees feel more involved in their company’s vision and goals. More importantly, they assure digital talent that their leaders are concerned with providing developmental opportunities to help keep employees sharp and competent.

We mentioned earlier that 71% of organisations offer challenging assignments as a tool for attracting and retaining key digital talent. A majority of these assignments are cross-functional, which expose employees to the inner workings of other departments and processes. These experiences are proven ways for employees to expand their professional networks as well as boost valuable soft skills – critical thinking, problem solving, risk taking and creativity4 – that will make them more agile and adaptable in the digital economy.

Digital talent crave open communication and coaches

Digital natives are 50% more eager to get feedback at work than any other employee group.5 Social media undoubtedly has a lot to do with this behaviour – particularly, how fast users can get feedback from their virtual connections.6 Additionally, since access to this technology is often just an arm’s length away, it has inevitably shaped how, where and from whom we obtain information, as well as how we apply that information to our actions, decisions and principles.

Of course, not all feedback is positive and not all information is accurate. However, many employees nowadays would argue that any response is better than feeling ignored or overlooked by their supervisors. Most would also agree that knowing ‘something’ is more comforting and less frustrating than being left in the dark, especially in times of unstable business conditions. This may help shed light on why transparent communication is the number one driver of sustainable engagement for digital talent.1

Interestingly, the number two factor for sustainable engagement is attributed to a supervisor or mentor that digital talents can fully count on for their professional development. Effective managers can inspire employees to be 23% more engaged. However, many workers believe that many managers lack the necessary skills to be effective at their role.1 The reason why is painfully true and unsurprising: 75% of managers in Asia Pacific spend less than six hours annually per employee on the performance management process. And on the flip side, they spend too much time on calibration meetings and paperwork.1

Turn insights into action

Significant cost has already been spent on securing digital talent, and the cost of losing them would surely be even more substantial. The following actions will help organisations further build on their knowledge and insights to best understand digital talent and their motivations:

  • Leverage the capabilities of HR to map out a talent acquisition and growth strategy that can keep pace with rapid technological changes.
  • Develop your employee value proposition into a programme that will make digital talent feel truly nurtured, and motivated to be part of the company’s growth and evolution.
  • Align your performance management cycle to meet employee’s need for frequent feedback and coaching.
  • And finally, enable your managers to direct more time and focus towards helping key talent to succeed.5, 7

Financial incentives of course go a long way to improve employee attraction and retention, but what speaks even louder is the productivity and high engagement that comes from digital talent understanding how they fit into the bigger picture.

1 2016 Global Talent Management & Rewards and Global Workforce Studies
2 The Digital Talent Gap: Developing Skills for Today’s Digital Organizations
3 IT Skills Matter Now! Attracting and Retaining Professionals with IT Skills – Overview Asia Pacific 2017
4 The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
5 Cracking the code: Using performance management to better retain and engage millennials
6 Why Millennials Want More Feedback, More Often
7 Meeting the Growing Demand for Digital Talent

About the Authors

Sambhav Rakyan

Willis Towers Watson

Jaap Scholten

Willis Towers Watson

Sambhav Rakyan is the Data Services Practice Leader in Asia Pacific. Jaap Scholten is the High Tech Industry Leader for Global Data Services. To connect with Sam or Jaap, email