CIOs make the case for bespoke, internal tech talent acquisition teams

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth August 1, 2022
Internal technology recruiters are becoming a key weapon for CIOs seeking talent as they take back control

Business ship - People all in the same boat working hard and finding the way forward. Manager and employees finance-forward culture teamwork concept © Overearth - Shutterstock
(© Overearth - Shutterstock)

In order to secure technology talent, organizations require CIOs to invest in talent acquisition leaders in order to 'take back control' of technology recruitment. Talent acquisition can deliver business benefits, cost savings, the ability to respond to the skills market and, most importantly, recruit necessary technologists. As CIOs reveal to diginomica, talent acquisition is, like technology, not just a bolt-on, but a strategic approach and a good investment. 

With all the skills shortage headlines, it would be easy to assume CIOs were forming talent acquisition teams to cope with the shortage, but the topic runs deeper than this, as Conor Wheelan, Chief Information and Operations Officer at financial services firm Experian explains:

We looked at the metrics and history of our recruitment and our reliance on the recruiters, and it was a mixed bag. There are some recruiters that you have got to work really hard with to get the best out of them, and there are others that are great. But what we found was that unless we were paying a search fee, they were going after the people in the market that were actively looking, so they were not trying that hard.

Whelan went on to carry out a full cost analysis to assess whether creating a talent acquisition arm of IT would be cost-effective. He reveals:

We looked at the cost per hire, and the Glassdoor average was £3000 per hire if you were doing the talent acquisition yourself. We felt that was high, so we started at £1400. Then the number of hires that this person would bring in - the industry average is 60 - and we benchmarked the productivity…and we are getting 80 hires per individual on our talent acquisition team.

Inevitably Experian saw a long-term sustainable future for internal talent acquisition, and the reason Whelan says is:

We are getting a lot of buy-in, they care, and they learn a lot. They are incentivized as part of our resources and they have gone the extra yards with the hiring managers. The external recruitment firms didn't have the same relationship with us.

Experian is increasing the size of its technology talent acquisition team as a result of the successes it has had. Although this will increase costs, Whelan still believes the benefits will, in fact, deliver savings.

Not only does talent acquisition deliver savings, but in the quest to secure the right skills, a strong talent acquisition team can be a competitive advantage for organizations. CIOs across Europe and the USA report that hiring technologists has become harder, and it is widely accepted that it is now an employee market. So CIOs and their organizations have to do more to secure candidates. As Chief Product and Technology Officer at energy firm OVO Christina Scott says:

Why would you choose us? We have to make sure that we live up to the promise.

Scott built a talent acquisition team during her time as CTO of News UK, the Rupert Murdoch owned media firm, and says talent acquisition is also about delivering everything that is promised during the recruitment process. She adds: 

We say we are all about sustainability, and we have to live up to that promise.

Laura Pettit, Chief People Officer for DNA Payments, was Scott's Talent & Engagement Director at News UK, a job title that reveals the wider remit of the role. Of the current situation, she says: 

You hear a lot of C-suite executives saying talent and retention is their greatest concern, for a few, like Christina Scott and the founders of DNA Payments, this is true - but they are in the minority. The majority are not investing in the talent funnel.

Ian Cohen, Chief Product and Information Officer at Acacium Group, agrees with Pettit and adds:

Many leaders haven’t learnt how to adapt to the change that has happened in the marketplace for talent. There was a time when you waved a job spec out towards the ether and talent flowed to you. That’s not the way life works now. Some still believe in a world of recruit and retain, as if their company was some kind of inherent talent magnet. Well, that’s becoming a thing of the past..

It’s a sad reality but the majority of talent that is out there don’t want to work for you and the ones that do have a new set of requirements; they want to know about your social responsibility approach, your stance on diversity and inclusion, what work-life looks like. They are asking the question, why should they come and work with YOU."

Business benefits

If the organization has realized that the marketplace has changed and they need a new approach, talent acquisition teams within IT can benefit the business. Scott at News UK tasked her talent acquisition team not only with securing the employees she needed but also assessing and modernizing the recruitment processes in her department. Scott reveals:

We looked at the end-to-end journey from the words in an advertisement or job specification, how we communicated and even how we turned somebody down or how day one was for a joiner. From this, we made sure that every touchpoint was as good an experience as possible.

For Whelen at Experian, talent acquisition has led to greater collaboration across the various business lines within IT and the international financial services organisation. He says: 

Talent acquisition now acts as the interface between teams, which means people can move around the business if we need to redeploy skills if there is a slowdown in a market, for example. The talent acquisition teams can see where the demand for skills is across the organization. Or when technical people get bored, they can speak to the talent acquisition team and seek a new challenge.

Pettit recognizes the culture that Experian has developed. She adds:

A talent acquisition partnership can align with how you attract, who you attract and ultimately, you have a better chance of keeping people and cultivating the culture.

At News UK, we got down to 98% in-house recruitment as a result of hiring phenomenally good recruiters, who knew their stuff, and the hiring managers didn't have to work with agencies, as they were getting what they needed. At World Remit, we had a talent acquisition team that, between the two of them, hired 47 engineers in London and Krakow in under three months. Hiring engineers in Krakow makes London look really easy.

Pettit says the key to these success stories is that talent acquisition teams are highly commercial and focused on benefiting the business.

Building talent acquisition

Whelan says that when he and Experian considered moving to internal talent acquisition, despite the numbers stacking up, there was concern that their internal resources would not be able to deliver the results. This has not been the case. But as Pettit explains, there are some vital steps towards building a successful talent acquisition team. He says: 

When you are setting up, you need really good people, and as you take on more talent acquisition people, you must train them. People, including TA’s don’t stay in one job anymore so developing the team to allow for succession is crucial as you’re unlikely to retain the same TA partners for years unless the business is big enough to allow them to grow.

Whelan hired a former recruiter, which he says was vital to the success of the strategy. He warns peers:

There were a lot of hearts and minds to win over as it had to prove to the stakeholders that we could give them the service they needed.

And the journey doesn't stop there. Just like the technologists, all agree there needs to be a constant investment into the function. In April 2021, LinkedIn reported that postings for recruitment roles were higher than before the pandemic, and the social network found that the majority of organizations were looking for recruiters with an HR background, not sales. Pettit says:

You need to invest in the talent acquisition team. In terms of market presence, there should be no difference to an agency; they should still be meeting candidates - that is the bit that is often underfunded.

Scott adds that talent acquisition is a partnership and that hiring managers need to be playing an active role:

Everyone in technology needs to do their bit when they are speaking at conferences, for example.

Cohen says this is the new reality for CIOs:

You have to develop new tactics, strategies and behaviours, I call it: attract, engage, learn and return. Attract is how you present yourselves as an organization. Part of our job as technology leaders is to tell those amazing stories about our businesses that attract talent to our purpose but then we also have to find new ways to engage them so that both parties get the best from each other.

He adds that despite concerns about retention, CIOs need to become unafraid of letting people move on: Cohen says: 

Learn and return is all about improving yourself as a business, from that engagement, learning new skills and techniques that you maybe didn’t have and then celebrating that when you put talent back into the gene pool, you grow the gene pool.

My take

It is perhaps inevitable that as CIOs and CTOs have reduced or changed the use of outsourcing and brought more business-critical technology in-house, then the recruitment process would have to follow the same path. But as the CIOs interviewed for this article all demonstrate, forming a talent acquisition team is only part of the answer. The culture, the purpose, story, technologies and way of working are as important; if these are not right, then a talent acquisition team will not be able to make a dent.

Today's employees are seeking something more meaningful than a job and a pay packet, and that is a good thing as it demonstrates a more engaged and enlightened society. Ultimately if digital technology is to improve organizations and deliver on its opportunities, an engaged society is necessary.

Owning and caring about the outcome always delivers the right results, a whiteboard ranking of who has done the most cold calls or billed the most is never going to deliver the skills a CIO needs. It's time to take back control!

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