The recruitment crisis

Paul Boag

When your competitive advantage increasingly depends on your digital offering, recruiting and retaining quality digital staff is essential.

I believe we are heading for a recruitment crisis in digital. We are already seeing the problem in digital hotspots such as the Silicon Valley and I am convinced it will spread.

What is the problem?

The business world is changing. Digital is increasingly becoming a critical component of business success. Whether you are selling kitchens or raising money for cancer research, having an effective and well executed digital strategy is essential.

Currently most businesses are making do with external agencies, but that is not a viable long term solution. As digital becomes more crucial, outsourcing is going to be cost prohibitive.

Many organisations have already realised this and hired a small team of web professionals. But recruiting and retaining these staff is going to be increasingly hard as demand grows.

As more companies realise they need in-house teams its going to get more difficult to find experienced people. Eventually the free market will compensate for this and people will retrain with this new skillset. However, there will be a considerable period of time when there are not enough good people to go around. In that period, those with good staff are going to have a significant competitive advantage.

[icegram messages=”21572″]

What to do about the problem?

Whether you already have a digital team or not is an irrelevance. If you have then you are faced with the challenge of retaining them when demand is high. If you have not, then you face the problem of recruitment.

You may be tempted to think that the key is to simply offer more money than the competition, but it is not. That route is unsustainable for most businesses and anyway it will ultimately just lead to spiralling salaries.

In fact, recruiting and retaining good digital staff has little to do with money. As a general rule of thumb, cash is not their primary motivator.

If you want to recruit and retain great web professionals, focus on the following areas.

Working environment

Let’s be clear about who you are up against. You are not just up against your competition, you are also up against agencies and even the likes of Twitter, Facebook or Google. These are organisations that invest heavily in their working environment and so you need to do so too.

Web professionals are used to working in environments that allow them to work and play hard. They typically put in long hours and so expect a work place that they are happy to be in for the majority of their waking hours.

Equipment is also important to your typical web worker. You cannot expect them to work with the same computer hardware as somebody in accounting. They will expect to have the best equipment to enable them to do their job effectively.

You cannot expect a web professional to work with general purpose equipment, just as you would not expect a professional plumber to be working with the same DIY tools you own.

If you invest in a nice workplace and good equipment, you create the kind of environment that digital people want to be apart of.


I am convinced that most high quality digital staff think about work in a very different way to traditional businesses.

Most businesses are built on the principles of the industrial revolution, with a workplace mentality structured around a 9–5pm factory floor.

Digital workers expect considerably more flexibility than this. They expect to work flexible hours so long as they get the work done. They also expect to be able to work from wherever they want.

Unless you can give them clear reasons why they should be commuting to an office five days a week for eight hours a day, you will face problems. With so many companies willing to be more flexible, why would they stay with you?


Digital professionals are not factory workers. They are highly skilled individuals, who have expertise that those they report into almost certainly do not. As a result they do not expect to be micro managed, but instead be allowed to shape their own work day.

If you want to attract and keep digital workers, you must give them control over their own job.

I am not suggesting you should go as far as software company Valve who allow employees to work on whatever they want (although it is worth bearing in mind this is the kind of competition you are up against). Instead I am saying you need to give your digital staff a sense of ownership over what they are working on.

A digital worker is used to being a key decision maker in how his work is done and on what timescale. If he is left with the impression he is little more than a digital factory worker, he will leave.


Probably the biggest concern for a digital professional is whether his employer will help him stay up to date with the latest innovations.

The web moves at such a phenomenal rate that keeping up is a major undertaking for anybody. Unfortunately, too few companies fail to recognise this. They hire digital workers for their knowledge, but fail to invest in that knowledge to ensure it remains current.

If you want to attract and retain digital staff you need to give them the space to learn. This means giving them downtime in much the same way Google gives its staff time to work on personal projects. You also need to provide them budgets to attend conferences, buy books and go on training courses.

This doesn’t need to be as expensive as it sounds. To be honest, time is more important than money. If you are constantly looking to maximise your productivity from digital staff they will have no time to experiment with new techniques, read about new innovations or test new approaches.

A change in thinking

We are moving out of the industrial economy into a digital era. Unfortunately although the economy is changing, our thinking is slow to adapt. The old rules for managing staff no longer apply. We are not employing low skilled individuals to do a repetitive job. We are looking to employ professionals who are self motivated, experienced and highly skilled. They need managing differently and yet this is not something I am seeing happening within most teams I work with.

“Human Resources” image courtesy of