Industry insights

The IT industry’s war for talent

The IT industry’s war for talent

Lessons from the wars of old as we recruit for the future

Did you know that in the 55th Century BC, wars were common as the Romans expanded their empire. But finding soldiers for the army was no easy feat, and seeing as it was war, turnover rates were high, as you can imagine. Despite good pay and bonuses, the ­somewhat hazardous work environment meant that people were not flocking to sign up.

There was a constant need for soldiers and other personnel and the Romans had high standards: anyone joining had to be a Roman citizen and capable of marching over 28km per day in full uniform, armour and weapons as well as carrying 30kg of supplies! On top of that, a citizen could not just be hired into any position. Roman society was divided into five classes that determined where one could work in the army and the armaments they received.

Recruiters were required to travel the breadth and length of the Empire to find suitable candidates to meet the continuous staffing demands. Their talent teams were faced with a lot of jobs to fill, high staff turnover, not enough qualified candidates, high employee standards and skills, and fierce competition for what talent there was. It was not an easy job.

Fast forward to 2023. What’s changed?

Today’s war for talent

Today, tech talent is in high demand. The so-called Great Resignation (or Big Quit) has only added to this demand for the limited pool of skilled individuals.

Many people re-evaluated their careers and work-life priorities during Covid. Some of these concerns were practical around daily schedules, commuting, the reality of working at home, low pay or a lack of opportunities. Other concerns have been more personal like whether they are fulfilling a purpose and if the work they do matters – all of these further contributing to the global tech skill shortage.

“Finding engineers, analysts and testers is no easy task” explains Natalie Allcock, the Talent team lead at BBD. “Not only are there simply not enough skilled individuals and intense competition on a global scale, but good pay and bonusses are not the only factors anymore.” She adds that for a company like BBD, who has very high standards for candidates, these challenges are only amplified.

Today’s talent acquisition consultants are scouring the world as the net continues to expand for where companies source their talent. “This makes the talent pool wider, but also means that more companies are now competing for the same top candidates globally, and introduces a plethora of challenges not least time zones and language barriers.” This competition however takes shape in the value proposition, branding, compensation and benefits offered.

In general, recruitment teams can be constantly challenged by staff turnover and the subsequent role vacancies, the shortage of skills in the tech space and compliance issues across multiple geographies to name but a few.

If you think this sounds familiar then you’re right. The challenges talent teams face today are the same as those faced 2000 years ago – well, except for maybe the physicality needed.


The world has evolved radically in the last 2000 years. Although we may not be recruiting for the same jobs they had in the Spartan era, or even for the same jobs we had 10 years ago, it was the Romans who created many of the processes we still have in play.

Allcock uses the example of UX designers. “UX or user experience was maybe a thought in software related projects a decade ago, but today we have whole teams dedicated to it.” Data mining, machine learning, big data and even the cloud were merely concepts not so long ago and today they’re near the top of the list of roles many organisations are looking to fill. In the not so distant future, we will be recruiting for virtual reality engineers, augmented reality journey builders and even Human-Machine team leaders. One fundamental difference is in how much faster everything happens. Thanks to technology today’s recruiters can gain valuable insights into processes and applicants to make better informed decisions, selection processes are quicker and social media has been able to allow businesses to reach people companies never thought they’d be able to reach before. AI or Artificial Intelligence is speeding towards the recruitment industry – bringing with it the ability to eliminate mundane tasks, mitigate personal biases and use predicative analytics to identify candidate suitability.

“But we need to be careful to not see tech as the ultimate weapon to win the war on talent” remarks Allcock. “We cannot underestimate the power of the human mindset, and the importance of relationships in ever-evolving talent processes.”

She goes on to explain that at its core talent acquisition is all about people. Recruitment teams can introduce technology to make the processes more effective, but it’s the human element that cannot be forgotten. “Because people are the core of any business.”

Lessons from the past informing our future

So how can we use the past to help us adapt to the technological advancements and changing job landscape so that the art of recruiting doesn’t get left behind? How can we make sure old practices are properly translated into the 21st century without forgetting the humanness of it all?

Allcock identified three lessons we can take from the past as we move swiftly into the future of recruiting.

Lesson 1: Be creative

According to the OfferZen Hiring Report, one in every three engineers was looking to change jobs in 2022. In Germany, there’s been a 48% increase in job listings since the end of 2020, largely led by the tech sector, while the number of people searching for those jobs has decreased by 27%. This trend is echoed in South Africa with Google job search volumes seeing a 10% decrease despite a 27% increase in the jobs listed. You cannot oversell the shortage of skills in the industry.

“If we want to attract the two thirds of people who aren’t actively looking and being wooed by every other company, then recruiters need to think differently” remarks Allcock.

In 55 BC, when Rome was at war and soldiers were scarce, Julius Caesar tried something new: the referral programme. Familiar? In the collections of the British Museum you can see a decree signed by Caesar promising a reward to any soldier who brought another to join the Roman army. This was the first of the kind and the generous reward represented a third of a soldier’s annual pay.

“Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. At BBD, we’ve expanded our referral programme to not only focus on engineers, but to span all functions in the company and extends to bursar and graduate referral programmes as well.” Allcock says that BBD has gone about this because firstly we know that new blood entering the industry could be the superstars of tomorrow – the CEOs and world changers of the future. Secondly, because it is existing employees who know best who will fit into a company’s culture, ethos and environment. They know what type of person is needed to help us achieve our goals. “Why wouldn’t you tap into their relationships and trust your people to do this?”

By creating a space for innovation where recruiters are able to experiment, play and grab opportunities you are arming your company with a winning strategy in this war for talent. It can be as simple as attending industry events to create networks and build relationships, or utilising creative social media strategies that allows you to be more innovative.

Lesson 2: Give clarity

Statistics show that up to 55% of software engineering candidates withdraw from an interview process due to a negative experience, highlighting the importance of the candidate experience in acquisition processes. When asked what they’re looking for in a hiring process the answers centered on transparency in the role, processes, salary and interview. 38.7% were also looking for useful feedback and enjoyable interactions with hiring managers.

It comes down to being direct and clear. And as humans often act on emotion and not logic, it’s important to ensure that as recruiters or hiring managers, you are not only selling all things positive, but also painting a real picture of the environment, project types and challenges that could be faced. “At BBD we take time to explain the types of solutions we develop and how we’re always on the look-out for people who are up for the challenge, tenacious and not afraid to fail occasionally.” Painting a full picture, enticing people with the types of problems they’ll be solving, and creating an emotional connection all go a long way to helping people want to be a part of an organisation.

Lesson 3: Give purpose and belonging

Covid forced many people to reflect on their purpose in life, and as we spend most of our week-day hours at work, employees these days expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives.

In a recent McKinsey report, 89% of employees at all levels want purpose in their live, and almost 70% of employees surveyed stated that their sense of purpose is largely defined by work. This is not something new.

Allcock describes that we can see this in the recruitment space today in how people in the software development industry are not only concerned with their package, but also with the culture, clubs, environmental outlook and policies that a company supports. “People want to work for companies that echo their own beliefs, and work on projects that mean something.” Another aspect candidates care about when looking for a company to call home is the attitude towards career development and progression. Your ability and opportunity to grow is closely aligned to a person’s sense of purpose and belonging. BBD, Allcock explains, is deeply committed to encouraging and supporting relevant continuous growth for their employees not only because of how quickly the industry evolves, but because we understand how demotivating it can be to stagnate and feel like you have nowhere to grow. “Here we own our own careers, but the avenues to do so are fully supported by the company including financial support, study leave and a gamified internal learning platform run by the R&D team.” Couple this with a culture of recognition and you have an environment that challenges people to continue developing in a way that works for them as individuals.

How BBD recruits for the future

With over 1,000 employees and hubs in five countries, we understand that meeting people where they are, understanding the lessons outlined above and adapting to evolving talent acquisition processes is key to remaining an employer of choice and ensuring that the company continues to grow with the very best talent from around the globe.

It comes down to three concepts: purpose at work, purpose outside of work and identity.  

Purpose at work

With a majority of people finding purpose from the work they do, it’s important that they feel engaged and see progress in activities that provide meaning. This gives people energy.

To meet this human need, BBD works with clients on projects that use technology to make a difference in people’s everyday lives. One such example is in how we have worked with a financial services company in the UK that provides specialised police-friendly financial products to automate manual processes which resulted in 50% of operational hours saved. These savings have been passed down to the end users. Other examples are how we partner with various banks have enabled people to spend less time waiting in queues or spending money on expensive phone calls, while in the public sector we have worked on various projects to streamline tax complaints and dispute resolution, biometrics live capture and automated tax processing – all working to improve citizen services.   

Purpose outside of work

Employees are looking to have meaning and purpose not just at their jobs, but in their personal lives as well.

BBD encourages this through acknowledgement and support of a good work-life balance while creating a space where people can volunteer, give back or even join a sports or hobby club with others who share their interests. In this way, we are helping people find purpose outside of day-to-day jobs by creating a space people feel they belong.


The final concept is around identity, and how BBD has created a culture where individuality is prized. “I think it’s fair to say that everyone not only wants to feel like they belong, but also that they are recognised for who they are and what they contribute. This is something BBD gets very right” remarks Allcock.

People are at the core of decisions at BBD, and the culture encourages collaboration, personal growth and development, innovation and inclusion. By ensuring we do not lose this as the company grows, we have been able to weather every storm over the past almost 40 years in business. The focus has always been on recognising and rewarding people for the value they bring in a space that encourages innovative thinking.

If you’re an engineer, tester, analyst or anyone in the software space looking to work on meaningful projects in an environment that encourages your growth, hobbies, health and purpose, then BBD may just be the place for you.

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