As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to dominate headlines, business leaders are at a crossroads: they must recruit and retain the forward-thinking talent needed to accelerate AI adoption while managing through a bewildering smorgasbord of economic uncertainties that have led to unprecedented workforce reductions in the tech sector.
According to Layoffs.fyi, around 1,000 tech companies have laid off more than 164,000 people in 2022 and 193,000 (so far) in 2023 – with Accenture, Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft each announcing more than 10,000 layoffs at the same time.
Whether your company is experiencing tech layoffs or talent shortages, believe it or not, attrition remains high for most employers, increasing out-of-pocket recruiting costs and blocking companies from advancing long-planned digital transformation and IT initiatives.
What does this have to do with AI?
In this seemingly paradoxical market, beyond all the layoffs, CEOs are struggling to balance today’s growing demand for AI skills with longer-term business growth needs. They are learning that it is time to restart their thinking about innovation strategies – starting with people. Smart leaders need to think about how to channel this disruptive dynamic within them talent strategiesjust as they have done with technology strategies for several years.
I recently spoke with Jim Kavanaugh, co-founder and CEO of $17B technology solutions provider World Wide Technology (WWT), about what a dynamic talent strategy should look like in today’s race to AI. For him, that strategy comes down to two things: Scalability and Culture.
“People should never be a numbers game,” he said. “In the face of rapid technological advancements and changing economics, we see that customers need the ability to deploy the right talent in the right place at the right time to help them manage the bottom line while staying on top of keep up with change.”
Kavanaugh compared the current talent landscape to a perfect storm, in which “the race for technical talent is intensifying and forcing companies to find agile talent strategies that help avoid complacency and enable them to develop AI strategies at the rapid pace that is necessary to compete and succeed.”
One estimate predicts that nearly 150 million new IT jobs will be created in the coming years as organizations modernize IT infrastructure, shift the division of labor between humans and machines, and adopt a more automated, data-driven way of doing business.
People Platform Passion
Managers can learn a lot from hybrid leaders who can authentically balance what I think are key organizational assets—people (the who), platform (the what), and passion (the why)—in building organizations, or simply drive growth, innovation and change.
Kavanaugh’s perspective appears to be informed by his experiences as both a large company using technology and as a market leader deploying and supporting it for global clients. Over the past 33 years, he has grown WWT by helping companies accelerate digital transformation strategies through strategic IT consulting and implementation services, partnering with some of the world’s most advanced hardware and software providers. His hybrid-ness probably came from his early days, when he was an Olympic and professional soccer player, where he observed the power of perseverance, drive, and teamwork. He still seems to apply those qualities that build WWT’s award-winning workplace with people and partners who perform.
Cracking The Code
AI is all the rage in business and social circles – but there’s more to it if you want to make a lasting systemic impact on your business. The rub for AI is that it is a technology that must be interoperable with a wide range of cloud, DevOps, automation, security and customer experience platforms to fully realize its potential in driving business results. You can’t have one without the other.
“This means that organizations need people with specialized, high-quality technical skill sets, but they also need employees with a solid understanding of how to integrate those skills with the company’s technology strategy to drive long-term business goals,” he explained.
Cracking this code means that leaders must examine their current talent base against specialty skills, such as AI, and then determine whether the organization has the time, resources and drive to pursue training and education as it works to fill urgent gaps.
Recruiting the AI workers
We are seeing early signs of AI’s uncertain impact in the recruitment of the next generation of engineers, developers and designers at top tech companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Juniper. In a recent survey, Juniper found that despite increasing reliance on AI, IT leaders do not see AI replacing humans, but rather allowing employees to save time and focus on more unique, nuanced tasks.
Juniper’s CEO, Rami Rahim, says, “AI is this new breed of learning – not learning by programming algorithms, it’s learning by looking at patterns in data and connecting it to our industry. AI is incredibly promising, it gives us customers the ability to collect data in real time. As an industry we are sitting on a goldmine of information that is largely untapped today.”
Smart engineers and developers are starting to immerse themselves in AI tools like CodeGPT, Bugasura, GitHub and Repli to increase their skills, while designers are experimenting with platforms like PiggyAI, Galileo and Viesus to not only improve and stay relevant – but to to become accelerator of growth in their next performance.
Amazon, an early silent mover in the space, said when commenting on recruiting talent to develop chat interfaces with natural language AI systems, “We are investing significantly in generative AI across all of our businesses.” On the recruiting front, AI is already creeping into Amazon job postings as it restarts its recruitment of engineers with skill sets to create “an interactive conversational experience” that can better communicate with shoppers in this transformational era of search.
Scaling up an AI culture
Culture is also an important piece of the puzzle, especially for high-end talent with AI skills. In the talent race, attracting the right people at the right time is only half the solution. Keeping your people engaged and motivated is essential to ensuring your organization can innovate and adapt in the months, years, even decades ahead, and this means carefully evaluating your values and norms against the need for speed. Many leaders admit, economic pressures aside, that their need for speed led to overhiring at most tech and other companies that are now laying off.
Considering that top talent rarely stays on the market for more than 10 days (even as the average IT/design job takes more than 50 days to fill), Kavanaugh urges leaders to look beyond traditional staffing agencies and high-profile consultants to close urgent talents for new technologies such as AI. This will be difficult for some leaders in the next upswing, especially as gig economy practices continue to drive hiring preferences by potentially in-demand employees.
“No time is ever without change, and you have to be on your toes,” he said. “Companies that weren’t around 10 years ago are now leading the charge, and you need a talent strategy that’s as flexible and agile as your technology strategy. Business won’t wait.”
And it’s because the pace of business won’t wait that strategic sourcing solutions require a much closer look. Strategically aligning your technical talent sources with those who know and understand your long and short-term IT vision can help your organization position and pivot as dictated by the evolutions of AI and your increasingly competitive business landscape.
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