Retailers are searching for new ways to attract and retain tech talent

Pubished 16th December 2019

Retailers are battling it out to attract top tech talent. As customers move online, traditional brick-and-motor retailers must invest in the tech front to stay ahead of the competition.

Over 1.4 million people are employed in the UK’s digital sector with 100,000 more people in digital jobs than last year according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. However, two thirds (67%) of companies across the UK have unfilled digital vacancies.

The current tech skills shortage in the UK means the most sought-after candidates can come at a premium. Building an internal tech team in retail can be challenging, especially when competitors start ‘poaching’ when they see talented individuals. As many retailers are fishing from the same pond, challenges need to be articulated well to attract job seekers to a career path for them to learn and develop in new tech.

Retailers that want to attract tech professionals need to think of factors outside of salary and benefits packages. In an interview with KingFisher's Group Digital Director, Andy Wolfe he spoke about how first and foremost interesting projects need to be provided and how younger tech talent also “want to feel like their part of a wider purpose.” Wolfe stated that it is important for a retail business to balance a competitive benefits package with a real social purpose to attract talent.

Only 17% of the UK's tech workforce are women, while this may need to be tackled from the school level, retailers can help by creating exciting tech roles that can appeal to women. Wolfe believes that "strong leadership" with access to coaching and mentoring can create a culture that focusses on nurturing talent so that they feel confident and have the skills to succeed.

Retailers continue to develop new online avenues that inspire customers to then touch and feel the products in-store. They aim to create a seamless experience between digital and physical. There’s been an increasing focus on hiring data scientists and cybersecurity experts to manage customer data that drives these experiences.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium has stated that reforming the broken business rates system while addressing issues with the apprenticeship levy will allow retailers to focus on “enhancing their digital and physical offerings to customers.” As a result, this could lead to recruiting new digital and tech talent.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

To retain technology professionals, some retailers are providing creative environments for developers and engineers to work on their own projects - where they can steer the ship. James Sturrock, Chief Executive of EVE, said he likes the famous quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast" from management consultant and writer, Peter Drucker. Sturrock believes that retailers should include their tech teams in their overall purpose, empowering them to solve challenges rather than telling them what to do.

Neil Landon, CTO at Feelunique, an online beauty products retailer says that one day every month their developer team are permitted to work on any feature they want. This could be “a passion project” or something that is not a business priority but given the chance could be of value. Even in a small tech team like Feelunique’s, there is always going to be a significant to-do list or “backlog” of work, but this type of culture empowers tech teams to learn, innovate and see their work in action, making a difference.

Quotes from Retailer Systems and Computer Weekly, November 2019