Marching into the unknown: a look at digital recruitment in New Zealand

BMW’s Super Bowl ad for 2015 featured a clip from 1994 in which long-standing news personalities Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel are discussing the mysteries of the then-nascent internet and asking seemingly hare-brained questions such as ‘What is internet anyway?’

Of course, both Couric and Gumbel eventually unravelled the online enigma, which is part of the reason why they have stayed relevant in a world that is increasingly driven by the fast-paced progression of digital technology.

And while the nostalgic clip from over two decades ago now looks comedic to the modern viewer, it taps into an ongoing struggle that workers have in the digital age.

Technology is advancing faster than ever before, creating jargon with a regularity seen only in internet memes and spawning new job titles that didn’t exist only a few years ago. Employers and employees now have to adjust their skills to fit into this changing landscape.

In this constant drive to stay slightly ahead of digital obsolescence, companies have rushed out to get the digital skills that can keep them relevant in a world sitting on endless lines of code.

Yellow’s 2015 business confidence survey of 1,399 small- to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) found that 34 percent of business owners regarded digital marketing as an essential area to upskill in, placing it only behind marketing and IT and technology (both on 41 percent). And many companies are responding by hiring candidates that have—or at least claim to have—skills that are tailored to the demands of working in a digital world.

“Everyone’s employing digital: agencies, corporates, SMEs, the government and the guy who mows your lawns,” says Leighton Howl, a senior talent agent at The Pond. “Every business, no matter what its size, wants to be found online. With this, talent is in high demand from all corners of the business community.”

Present, future and sci-fi jobs

Font’s Jacqui Barrat recently revealed some of the digital specialist roles that have emerged in recent years:

  • Community managers
  • CRM specialists and consultants
  • Digital strategists
  • Digital analysts
  • Digital account servicing at all levels
  • Digital producers
  • Digital media directors
  • SEO/SEM specialists
  • UX/UI consultants and designers
  • Digital designers
  • Digital project managers
  • Digital content managers
  • Head of social media
  • Digital art directors
  • Digital planners
  • Performance marketing
  • Programmatic managers
  • Ecommerce managers

But these only tell the story of the present. What of the future? 

Online publication Futurespeaker.com recently speculated on some of the jobs that will exist before 2020. Here are five:

  1. Augmented reality architects: Specialists will add digital augmentations to the structures of our homes.
  2. Waste data managers: Big data will only get bigger, and this means businesses will need someone to sort the rubbish from the valuable nuggets.
  3. Avatar designers: As we become embedded in the digital world, we’ll want our avatars to be realistic. 
  4. 3D printing engineers: The proliferation of 3D printing will create a need for specialists who can service and maintain these devices.
  5. Smart contact developers: Smart contact lenses, capable of determining the wearer’s biometrics, are already being developed, and this is only set to become more common in the future.

And beyond 2030, the jobs only become stranger:

  1. Extinction revivalists: The moa, the dodo and the quagga might have a future after all. 
  2. Time brokers: Time will become the currency of the future.
  3. Drone dispatchers: How is Amazon going to ensure customers get their goods without these skilled technicians? 

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Adapt or leave

Given that the computer and the internet have become the hammer and the sickle that define our generation’s corporate workplace, employers’ expectations of their staff has evolved.     

“Digital is here, in every role,” says Louise Lawton, consultant at digital recruitment company The Digital Store. “Clients are now asking for graphic designers with web, app or social design skills, account managers are expected to be able to deliver the fundamentals of digital producing, and traditional print production managers to manage digital delivery.”

And employees that aren’t able to adapt or move beyond their safe zones are sometimes being jettisoned as employers enhance their digital proficiencies. 

“Companies restructure to allow removal of unskilled staff,” she says. “Some staff you can upskill, they have the logic and can adapt quickly. Some just can’t, won’t or simply just don’t get it.  I see this happen the most when—usually developers—have been with a company for a while. They are stuck in a cycle using older coding techniques, and usually on a salary that is now way too high for their current market skillset. They are made redundant and replaced by young guns, who are bright, fast and half the price.”

These younger employees—often recent graduates—are entering the workforce with the advantage of having grown up in a computer-dominated world.  

“They are digital natives, they live in the digital world, and we use their collective experience base in the class to grow their understanding of the behaviour that surrounds various digital mediums, how people use them, when they use them and why they use them and what they use them with,” says Kate Humphries, a course leader at the Media Design School (MDS). “This kind of drilling down into digital behaviour is far more important to a creative course like this than their actual digital skills.”

And to ensure that this digital-first style of thinking is deposited into the frontal lobes of the students, Humphries says that MDS has adapted its courses.

“Digital has had an impact on our programme for many years now,” she says. “So much so that how we now choose to cover it in the curriculum is from ‘traditional’ digital right through to non-computer based digital and ‘future-digital’.”

A digital recruitment tool

From an industry perspective, the recruitment industry is also starting to adapt with the digital age. 

Greig Cranfield, a digital specialist recruiter at Razzbri, recently launched Yudoozy, a separate recruitment service that’s targeted specifically at freelancers.

“It’s a platform for contractors or freelancers to go onto and start up a profile, and it will allow them to update their availability and the skills they’ve been working on recently,” he says.

This is essentially based on a similar premise to Freelancer.com (or creative crowdsourcing agency Victors & Spoils), but it will specifically target the local market here in New Zealand, providing a link between agencies and freelancers and removing the need for a recruitment consultant.

Given that recruitment agents’ fees can at times be quite high, this approach provides a faster, more affordable means for employers to find freelancers. 

So could this also work for employers seeking full-time workers?

Cranfield doesn’t believe so: “The fees that go into permanent recruitment are still warranted. There’s a lot of time and investment that goes into getting to know a client and then being able to sit down with someone and then map out their personality and strengths and whether they’ll get on with that client. When it comes to freelance, there’s not so much a need for culture fit, because they’re just there for what might be two weeks. In freelance, it’s about skill, availability and the hourly rate charged.”

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Employer beware

The changes in the industry have been accompanied by the introduction of new vocabulary, as workers search for ways to communicate what it is that they do. 

“As with any evolving industry, there are certain terms and buzzwords that come into fashion and are used in abundance to mystify certain aspects,” says Howl.

And, according to Lawton, this charlatan trend can cost employers unnecessarily large sums of money: “What I see a lot of is companies paying up to $10,000 for a website, when all the designer or developer has done is bought a $50 WordPress site, reskinned it, added some PHP plug-ins and charged an extortionate amount for it.”

And speaking to other recruiters in the industry, it soon becomes evident that examples like these aren’t exceptions. Jacqui Barratt, director at Auckland-based recruitment agency Font, says that she has also noticed a similar trend of charlatans deceiving prospective employers. But rather positing all the blame on jobseekers, she points out that employers are also culpable to some degree.  

“When anything is new it leaves a lot of room for people to create smoke and mirrors and some would say it’s a case of the blind leading the blind,” she says. 

To avoid employing the wrong candidates, employers need to ask specific questions during the interview to determine if the jobseeker’s skillset matches the employment brief, says Barratt.

“Don’t talk generalities, talk specifics,” she advises. “And you can only do this if you understand what’s required so involve the specialists or the hiring manager in the interview process. Also seek references of the work completed and get them to show you examples of their work.”

The problem, however, is that the industry is changing so quickly that it’s difficult for employers to connect what they want with the skills available in the job market. And as the digital age continues to change the job landscape, it’s only becoming more difficult for employers to pinpoint exactly what they want out of their employees.

“I read an article the other week that said around 65 percent of the job titles that will exist in 2050 have yet to be created,” says Howl.

Although this is just speculation, it gives some sense of the challenge that employers face in terms of finding the right people for their companies.

“I believe this pattern of charlatans has room to continue unless there are clearly defined parameters and standards that are put in place to sort the wheat from the chaff,” says Howl.

He suggests a system of standardisation akin to the bar exam used in the law industry. However, when looking at how the law is struggling to keep up with the rapid speed of digital development, it seems that this industry also has its own range of challenges for which solutions are yet to be found.    

But perhaps this is also the strongest argument for the continued relevancy of recruitment agencies. Because in the same way that Gumbel and Couric had to ask an ‘online expert’ what the internet was, today’s business owners increasingly rely on recruiters for information on the skills they need in their companies. And this makes recruitment agencies, especially those that specialise in digital skills, a valuable tool in a business landscape where things are changing rapidly.       

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