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The Battle of the Brains

By Ekow Duker – 

It sounds dramatic but the war for talent is sometimes described as a “bloodbath.” Companies globally are competing fiercely for talent in areas such as social media marketing, gaming, IT, accounting and data science, to name a few.
Hays’ list of top ten global skills shortages in 2016 includes IT and so called Green skills. McKinsey’s 2008 prediction that demand for IT professionals aged between 35 and 45 would increase by 25% while supply would decrease at the same rate over the next three decades, appears to be holding true as more and more baby boomers retire.
Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population, and yet Asia is experiencing acute skills shortages as well. Poaching of airline pilots for example, is endemic in Asia. It is estimated that there are currently 32,000 pilots in China and over the next sixteen years, that number will need to triple to meet demand. China also faces acute shortages of lawyers, general practitioners, accountants and IT professionals.
Despite high levels of unemployment, Europe is also experiencing skills shortages, most notably in IT. In 2014, the European Commission Digital Single Market Chief Andrus Ansip said Europe could “face a shortage of more than 800,000 skilled ICT workers by 2020.”
The US is also grappling with a dire shortage of IT skills. As far back as 1998, the Society for Information Management said educational institutions and organisations needed to “take decisive action now.” A survey conducted by the Society for Information Management in 2007 revealed that 51% of senior IT executives raised the ability to “attract, develop and retain IT professionals,” as their top concern.

Britain too is struggling with skills shortages, including – you guessed it – IT skills.  Research conducted by CompTIA, an IT skills and training specialist reveals that in 2016, 45% of UK businesses have productivity issues due to an extensive shortage of IT practitioners.

The stakes are very high and some companies are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to recruit talent. Silicon Valley Tech start-up company, Hipster offered new hires $10 000 dollars, a lifetime supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon American lager, skinny jeans, striped bow ties and a pair of Buddy Holly glasses.
Our field of choice, data science, is no different. The shortage of data scientists and people with deep analytical expertise in the US is estimated by some measures at anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000. It is widely acknowledged that supply lags demand by a considerable amount in data science and that the differential could be as high as 60%. The folks behind the big data website datanami put it best when they said, ‘If your company is looking to hire [a] data scientist right now, good luck.’
Given the global war for talent, business and organisations need to do their utmost to retain their best people. Astute businesses are using predictive analytics to manage their talent optimally. Retention algorithms enable them to predict which employees are most likely to leave. In addition to salaries offered by competitors and the results of performance reviews, employers now factor in non-traditional variables such as the length of an employee’s commute, and their manager’s tenure in his or her role. Predictive analytics thus enables them to develop models that predict which employees are flight risks – even before the employee may have come to a conscious decision to leave themselves.
Such insights enable organisations to implement proactive strategies to retain their key talent. Although global skills shortages are driving up salaries, clever employers know that it’s not always about money. The value of the brand, organisational culture, relationships, interesting work, flexibility and training can make your star performers stay.
Are you using predictive analytics as your first line of defense in the global war for talent?

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Oil field engineer turned banker turned writer, EKOW DUKER grew up in Ghana and studied in the UK, the US and France.

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