Who decides what talent is anyway?

By Huw Martin

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Recently I met with a Dean of Computing for a very reputable university, and we had a really interesting conversation which was in essence a chat around what processes companies tend to follow to hire talent, and how universities can learn from this and prepare students accordingly.

Our conversation covered a number of topics including:

  • How processes and attitudes of hirers are changing
  • What companies expect from graduates in this modern day and age
  • How best students can be prepared

There is, and always has been a real snobbery around qualifications in technology, much like other professions to be honest.

We still hear it now; ‘we only want candidates with a 2:1 or better, preferably from a prestigious university’, yet in the same breath bemoaning the lack of talent.

For someone like me who has been involved in the hiring of hundreds of various types of people over the last 17 years it’s clear that talent exists in many forms and someone who isn’t perceived as talent now, may well become talent in years to come given the right support, especially if this is given just at the right time of their development.

I’ve recently joined the board of Developing the Young Workforce (covering Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian Group) and its purpose is to ensure a positive destination for every young person and help transform the relationship between business and education. As part of this I’ve seen and heard some brilliant examples of how young people without the academic qualifications are given a chance to get into the world of work and are thriving; demonstrating that talent doesn’t have to have gone to Oxbridge, that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve a 1st or 2:1 and that if the attitude and aptitude are in place then anything is possible in the right environment.

One thing that became apparent is that there is a high percentage of students (circa 10% in this particular uni) who graduate with a computing degree but remain unemployed for some time after graduation. This surprised me as I’m led to believe that all IT graduates are snapped up as we all need more tech people and there aren’t enough are there!

Some of the things that could be impacting this pool of talent are the ‘softer’, more personal skills; self awareness, communication skills, uncertainty of making the right move etc. but in essence it made me wonder why students don’t get taught in higher education things that would help them really be ‘business-ready’. But also, what exactly is talent and how can someone ensure they fit in that category?

‘One man’s gold is another man’s garbage’ comes a little to play here, but in my opinion, anyone hiring in this day and age needs to ask themselves seriously the following questions:

  • What is talent (in your organisation)?
  • Why would talent join your organisation over a competitor?
  • What are you going to do to retain your talent?

Personally I’d love to see the wider tech community pulling together support the ‘struggling 10% ‘I alluded to earlier, given that everyone is running around desperately trying to find tech people with skills.

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