Digital disruption has caused a global talent shortage across just about every industry. Skills such as software engineering are in high demand, putting traditional enterprise companies in competition with unexpected players like Google and Facebook. To attract and retain key talent, global manufacturing and electronics firm Siemens is rethinking its employee experience and employer brand: how the company is perceived internally and externally in the job market.
Andrew Lam-Po-Tang, Executive Director, Business Transformation, R/GA London, and Rosa Riera, VP of Employer Branding and Social Innovation at Siemens, discuss some of the challenges the digital age presents…
Andrew Lam-Po-Tang: Tell us about your role at Siemens.
Rosa Riera: My academic background is political science and business administration. My professional background is communications and marketing. Right now I am in HR, so I call myself an HR immigrant. I’ve been with Siemens now for 16 years in a variety of roles in different locations across Germany and the US.
ALPT: In the past half decade, there have been some conflicting notions of rising unemployment and a global talent shortage. What’s driving that tension?
RR: Predominantly that’s because the curve of change in technology, learning, and development is not overlapping. You have an exponential change when it comes to technology and growth, but when it comes to education and skills, the development is almost linear at the moment. You see that [people] don’t have the right skills for what we call the "age of digitalisation," and yet we still need to develop the technology and grow businesses there. That’s why you see so many contradictory reports of companies saying they have a tougher and tougher time finding talent and, at the same time, you see high employment rates in some countries.
ALPT: Yes, there’sareal tension between those forces. So has this affected Siemens?
RR: We have been lucky so far in that our brand is strong enough that we can fill key positions. But, of course, we notice that it’s not as easy as it used to be. As my colleague likes to say, "We can’t go fishing; today we have to go hunting for talent."
And the engagement of the hiring managers who are responsible for finding talent, for bringing them in, is much higher. So whereas before, putting out an ad and waiting for people to apply was sufficient, but now it’s more about going to events: being there, being accessible, and convincing people that Siemens offers a great environment.
ALPT: And are there certain areas of talent, of expertise, where you’re finding it a bit more of a challenge?
RR: Well, today we compete with many other businesses that are looking for very similar talent in the area of digitalisation. Every industry needs to move in this direction. And so the profiles of the people we seek are more and more similar. Even in the manufacturing world, the digitalisation doesn’t stop. When you think in terms of what can be done nowadays with 3-D printing, our people on the shop floor need to learn how to deal with this technology to be able to do the job.
ALPT: So the fact that technology is everywhere—
RR: Everywhere, everywhere! Also in the functions at the headquarters level, nobody can really escape.
ALPT: What are some of the ways that Siemens has decided to deal with the talent shortage?
RR: We are looking into addressing the external talent market in a new way. One of the most important ways is to provide our people with learning and development opportunities. We invest around $1 billion a year in education, training, and upskilling. That’s quite a number, and we do it because without it we wouldn’t be able to grow our business the way we do.
This is one of the ways in which we develop people according to the development of the technology. But we also bring in new people who come with fresh ideas and with fresh skills.
ALPT: What role does diversity and inclusion play in finding talent?
RR: Fostering diversity is probably one of the most challenging tasks we have, but it’s also the biggest opportunity. We live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It’s a world that is very difficult for one person alone to grasp. Without diverse teams with a variety of experiences, skills, and perspectives, it’s probably going to be harder to tackle any challenge.
So, to me, if you invest and invite diversity into your company, that increases the odds of your success in the future. It’s really huge.
ALPT: So when it comes to diversity, it’s more of a strategic requirement than an advantage. How does that play out in terms of engaging and communicating with the talent market?
RR: It probably boils down to having an openness and curiosity, encouraging dialogue between a variety of people. This then seeps into your culture internally. Are you able to absorb different opinions? Do you lead in a very hierarchical way, or do you believe more in horizontal leadership? Do you believe more in getting the person who has the best skill for a particular task?
Thinking about these questions is very important in order to maintain diversity. It’s easy to bring diversity in, but holding it in a company is way more challenging. And many haven’t solved this. Retention is a huge challenge. You see that across the board, and we also have to fight every day to be as diverse as we possibly can. But so far, only very few companies have really mastered this.
ALPT: Speaking of internal culture, when did Siemens first start to think about an employer brand?
RR: This started probably from the time the company was founded in 1847 in Germany. It wasn’t called "employer branding" back then, but during the early years of the company, there was a real founding boom, a period that’s called the "Founder Years." There was a talent shortage, if you will, and the company had to think about how to make itself attractive, how to make its work attractive.
And so we developed a lot of policies, a lot of opportunities for our workers, to give us an edge in the talent market. Back then, Siemens introduced the nine-hour working day and pension funds for widows. It was like a revolution. The notion that to have an edge in the talent market—that you have to think about how to make the company seem attractive to workers—is not new.
When it comes to the management of the employer brand, we started calling it employer branding around 2008, and focused on developing an employer value proposition. It was developed with diversity in mind. We invited around 150 people from all over the world to Siemens, as well as partners, people from society, and businesses to give us diverse perspectives. That’s how we developed the first employer value proposition.
Now, when I took the job a couple of years ago, Siemens had embarked on a massive transformation. The existing employer value proposition just wasn’t matching the situation of the company. We felt that we needed to start fresh. We started essentially developing a new employer value proposition that would match the company, the culture, and the journey we were embarking on.
To develop this new proposition, we had to look at our employee, and other internal data. Then what we asked ourselves was: How do we develop a strategy to address the talent market? That’s when R/GA came onboard.
ALPT: What drove your decision to invite consumer-facing agencies to pitch for the work?
RR: First, we did not request a pitch. That was very important for us. Typically what happens in a pitch, you have specific assumptions about a particular challenge. You write a brief and then you invite potential partners to come up with good ideas. And then it’s some sort of beauty contest and whoever is most convincing wins.
In this case, we felt that the challenge was too complex—again, we are in a VUCA world— and too broad for someone to come up with a solid idea so quickly without having deep knowledge of the company. We were looking for a partner that would share our mind-set, that would be able to work with our partners in procurement and other departments, that would be quick to respond and show us that they are willing to embark on this journey.
Through a series of chemistry talks and a variety of interviews, it became almost like a job interview rather than a pitch. That’s how we came together, and that’s how we thought that R/GA would be up for the job.
ALPT: I do find it quite innovative and unusual, though, because HR is conventionally very specialized, served by a very specialised consultancy. Was there something in particular that you were looking for from a company like R/GA?
RR: Siemens is a B2B company, so typically our address to the market matches that of a B2B company. When it comes to the talent market, though, it’s a very different situation. It works more like a consumer market because it is so, so personal who you want to work for. It’s a very individual decision.
I always like to say that the talent market is a B2C market. It made a lot of sense to partner with someone who has a lot of experience in creating this kind of conversation, this intimacy with consumers, because the similarities to the talent market are higher than in a B2B situation.
ALPT: Right. We’re all consumers and, to a large extent, we’re all employees. So what’s the strategy behind Siemens’s employer brand?
RR: Well, in a nutshell, we want to spark conversations about the future of engineering and what it takes to get there. This revolves around creating a lot of dialogue. A dialogue creates intimacy, as well as opportunities and ways to explore that neither party can control 100 percent.
You have to also be a little courageous to have that conversation with someone. Once you do, it’s easier to develop the tactics that would lead to more and more conversations, be it online or offline.
So that’s what we’re working on together. We’re in 200 countries; we have 350,000 people worldwide and a variety of different businesses. So often we’re being perceived as very distant. We wanted to break this down and show we’re real people and we have our own passion and our own expectations toward society and toward our jobs that we want to share.
For more from Rosa Riera, please visit www.rga.com/futurevision/conversations/