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How to Source and Relocate Tech Talent Within the European Union Ideas for expanding your hiring search and how to recruit skilled employees from far away.

By Lilia Stoyanov Edited by Jason Fell

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Tech talent is scarce in many countries around the world as the skills demanded by the employers are not necessarily the skills possessed by the job seekers.

How is this possible?

New technologies emerge all the time and the educational system is not adapting quickly enough to the changing needs of the business. Add to that the fact that many technologies are short-lived and there's a hype in demand over a limited period of time only. On the other hand, recruiting qualified tutors having expertise and experience in these emerging technologies when the demand of the business is the highest, is anything but easy. Most schools and universities have stringent procedures in place regarding changes to the curriculum to ensure the quality of education. It looks like the business is driving in the fast lane while the educational institutions, students and job seekers in general can't leave the slow lane.

As the issue has been there for quite some time, the European Commission has engaged in a variety of initiatives aimed at closing the digital skills gap and modernizing the education across the EU, anticipating and analyzing the digital skills needs.

The new Digital Europe Programme, with a budget of €700 million, will expand the digital talent pool with around 256,000 people who will be able to deploy the latest technology in business throughout Europe.

However, businesses need tech talent now and the talent shortage is felt across the European Union. Over the past decade, some Eastern European countries have become BPO (business process outsourcing) hubs. Initially, this happened because the salaries and /or taxes in the new EU member states were lower than in the older member states. As these countries went through rapid change, for a period of time, the unemployment rate was higher and many foreign businesses were attracted by the opportunity. On one hand, many companies established Shared Service Centers and centralized non-core processes, on the other hand, BPO organizations specializing in business process outsourcing entered the local markets. The more businesses entered the local markets, the more scarce became the talent. The unemployment rate went down and the salaries started to grow slowly. A decade later, many Shared Service Centers and BPO organizations across Europe are facing talent shortages as many businesses are concentrated in the same hubs demanding similar skills set. Ironically, European businesses are facing the same challenges as the tech startups in Silicon Valley but they have a big advantage – within the European Union it is much easier to relocate talent as in most cases, European Union citizens can get a job in any EU member state.

Then, why is it so difficult for European businesses to source and relocate tech talent?

As the CEO of an HR Tech company, I was curious to find out why recruiters fail in attracting qualified candidates. As it was important to understand the challenges our clients were facing, I decided to speak with 70 recruiters who were clients of Transformify HR Software & Freelance Platform for more than two years and analyzed 7 000 job listings across various European and non-European countries. For months, we used tools like Hotjar to monitor the job seekers' behavior when applying for jobs - how much time did they spend on any part of the job listing, were they turned down by head hunters who didn't disclose the name of the hiring organization, the length of the job listing, remuneration package or anything else. It was a series of endless heatmaps, scrollmaps and semantic analysis until we came across some shocking, yet simple facts.

Like in real estate, it's all about the location.

Imagine that a recruiter was desperately looking to hire Java developers for an IT Services company based in Budapest, Hungary. The CTO was calling by the hour to check what the progress was as a big contract had been signed a month ago and the work needed to commence ASAP. Unnervingly, there were very few candidates, who on top of that were not experienced enough as many companies were hiring for the same skill set.

What went wrong?

Looking at the published job listings, at first, everything appeared logical. If the job was based in Budapest, the recruiter would specify "'Budapest'' as the location, thus instructing search engines to serve the job listing to candidates looking for a job particularly in Budapest. Hence, many candidates who were not searching for "' jobs in Budapest'' in particular would miss the opportunity.

If Java developers were already scarce in Budapest, why not looking for them elsewhere and relocating them to Budapest?

We run an A/B test and asked the recruiters to post the same job listing stating Lisbon, Valencia or Sofia as the location while clearly indicating in the comments section that the job was based in Budapest. Out of a sudden, they tapped into a much bigger talent pool. Sometimes, the same job listing received three times more candidates who were interested in the job, were open to relocating to Budapest but were not necessarily considering Budapest or actively searching for a job there.

So far so good, but out of the thousands of European cities, how to select those that are likely to be a source of qualified candidates?

Know Your Team

It's likely that some of your best performing employees studied at top universities abroad. The university cities are always a great source of talent, especially if these are relatively small cities like Heidelberg or Utrecht.

Some team members may have started their careers with the same competitor abroad and this is quite valid for the fintech industry, for example. "'Fishing in the same pool'' aka targeting the city where the office of the competitor is located may be a good strategy if your offer is competitive enough to entice qualified candidates to switch jobs and relocate.

Know Your Competitors

Have some of your competitors laid off many employees somewhere in Europe? Or maybe a competitor has decided to close an office abroad? This is valuable information as in such cases many qualified candidates are looking for jobs at the same time and lots of them are open to relocation. In the past, as Director PTP at Coca-Cola Enterprises, I was involved in a business transformation process. As some bottling plants were based in small cities or there were other employers going through transformation and process automation at the same time, lots of highly skilled people were looking for jobs at the same time and there were no jobs locally.

Knowing the location of the office that has just been closed allows to serve the job listing to those people who are based locally ( let's say Brussels) and not necessarily looking for a job in the city where the office of your company is based ( Budapest in our test scenario).

The results of the A/B tests were so clear that we decided to develop a functionality allowing recruiters to easily post many job listings changing only the location, the keywords describing the required skills or other variables.

The Skills

Naturally, the mindset of a recruiter is quite different from the mindset of a marketer. Not many recruiters would use tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush or Ubersuggest to check which key words are mostly used by the job seekers when searching for jobs. While reviewing the job listings, we noticed that in many cases, the skills were vaguely described, and no high search volume keywords were used. We run another A/B test asking part of the recruiters to use generic phrases like "' sound technical skills'', "'excellent soft skills'' and the like, while the other part used high-volume key words like "'Java'', "'Java script'' and similar. Using high search volume keywords attracted 4 times more qualified candidates on average. Even more, those candidates were looking for the right job regardless of the location and were ready to relocate if the job offer was appealing enough.

Long descriptions are to be avoided in all cases as very few candidates are likely to use them while searching for jobs. After all, who would type "' jobs requiring good communication skills and extraordinary tech skills'' while searching for a job online?

The Language

As our test scenario was built around a Java Developer role based in Budapest, Hungary, we asked the recruiters to post the job listing both in English and Hungarian. As expected, the job listing posted in English and targeting candidates in Lisbon, Sofia and Valencia ready to relocate, attracted times more candidates. However, this is not necessarily the right approach in all cases. It depends if the candidate is expected to speak Hungarian or not (or any local language for that matters). If the expectations are that to qualify for the job, the candidates need to speak Hungarian, then it's best for the job listing to be posted in Hungarian, thus naturally eliminating those candidates who are not proficient Hungarian speakers. Quite often, the recruiters are targeting students who study abroad or people who moved abroad some time ago.

On the other hand, if English is the official communications language of the company, posting the job listing in English and targeting a location abroad is likely to attract many top candidates.

Despite all efforts aiming at closing the digital skills gap and increasing the number of students studying STEM disciplines, many businesses face challenges sourcing and relocating tech talent. Using the right HR Software and targeting the right location significantly increases the chances of hiring tech talent when and where it's needed the most.

Lilia Stoyanov

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

CEO and Angel Investor at Transformify. Fintech Expert.Professor.

Lilia Stoyanov is a chief executive officer and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission.
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