Nicki Denholm: Lifting the lid on employer branding

Leaving aside the thorny issue of Brexit for the moment, Scotland's recent boom as a tech hub means that many of our most exciting companies '“ from start-ups to SMEs and larger corporates '“ need to attract digital talent from outside the UK to help fuel their growth.

Employers are having to up their game in the battle to attract the best talent. Picture: Neil Hanna

There’s no pretending it can be a tough gig – across many sectors of industry, research shows that CEOs are increasingly concerned with finding and retaining the people that will help them achieve their growth ambitions.

It’s well established that a company’s people provide a competitive advantage and competition also comes into play as companies and cities alike fight it out over the best talent around – the so-called “war for talent”. So, Skyscanner will compete with FanDuel and others for engineers or digital marketing talent and, in a similar way, Edinburgh competes against other UK cites like Manchester for the same kinds of skilled staff.

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The Big Interview: Denholm Associates chief Nicki Denholm

The rapid change in digital technologies has resulted in a shortage of highly skilled candidates and what the market is telling us is that, while most organisations are reasonably sophisticated at marketing to their customers, they are not nearly as good at marketing to potential employees. This has resulted in a lot of buzz being created about a term that has been around for a few decades now – “employer branding”.

Employer branding was first defined in the mid-1990s and denoted an organisation’s reputation as an employer as distinct to what was more holistically recognised as “corporate branding”. The lines have been blurred in recent times and, hastened by the proliferation of social media, what your employees think and say about the company they work for has increasingly informed external audiences and potential candidates.

There was a great image posted on LinkedIn recently by a new employee at one of Scotland’s best-known tech companies of his or her desk on day one in the new job – kitted out with two branded hoodies, a stack of Apple devices and few other snazzy knick-knacks. It was most certainly a great example of employer branding at its best and led to hundreds of hits across a number of different social platforms.

The web and online tools have become massively important when it comes to talent attraction with the current and next generations of the workforce. At Denholm, we have built our own tool to help clients showcase their employer brand in the battle to hire today’s star talent and build future communities; the aim is for organisations to build a bank of candidates already warmed up to them as an employer, reducing both the cost and speed of future hires.

What has been really interesting about the development of our offering, the companies we partner with and the candidate pool itself, is that there is a big education process involved in informing and selling Scotland and its cities as a top destination to young, talented workers – and not only the overseas talent but potential candidates from the rest of the UK.

It’s tough out there on the coalface and dear goodness let’s hope Brexit doesn’t make it any tougher – how we manage the talent pool is inexorably linked to our success as a modern economy.

• Nicki Denholm is chief executive of recruitment agency Denholm