What is making companies line up for talent with micro-niche skills?

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It is usually the talent that proves itself to the company during the hiring process. However, the tables turn when companies scout for micro-niche skills and specialisations. Leading multinational companies are almost wining and dining micro-specialist candidates in a bid to bring them on board. Organisations, driven by the ambition to pioneer their sector, are increasingly discovering business needs that can only be solved by these focus-skilled masters. HR Katha finds out what these highly sought-after skills are, when and why a business needs them and how HR leaders are winning micro-specialist talent over.

Micro-niche edge

Instead of building entire teams to put heads together on a business problem, companies are vying for talent with micro-niche skills that can get the job done. “It’s becoming more about an individual bringing a specific, niche skill to the table rather than a number of people,” notes Reena Wahi, SVP, head-HR, business excellence & CSR, Tata Realty & Infrastructure, who also believes that the future of work and the gig economy is further fuelling this talent pool.

A micro-specialist is often brought on board to lend an edge to a company moving up the value chain. “You’re looking for a specific skill and in that skill, you’re looking for someone who will be a differentiating factor for your organisation,” explains Ravi Kyran, chief human resources officer, Bajaj Auto. “You need someone who can be a competitive advantage for you as a company,” he adds.


Binny Ashish

“We already had an online presence, but this year, the entire focus shifted to online retail like never before. Therefore, we suddenly required a lot of extra specialised skills there.”

 


Interpreting tech

Digital technology has indeed permeated every aspect of our individual lives, and it is the same for businesses. Industrial operations are hurtling towards automation at rocket speed. This momentum has created the need for micro-specialists who help companies get up to speed.

“You need a skill set internally to look at those technologies closely, evaluate them in the context of the business and develop a solution that works best for the company,” elaborates Wahi. She believes, “organisations that are highly evolved, technologically,” are driving the demand for this talent. Micro-specialisation in AI, data analytics, performance marketing, customer analytics and robotic automation, are some of the skills currently on the radar of recruiters.

“Performance marketing and customer analytics are two very critical skill sets that have evolved big time in the real-estate industry over the past year,” observes Wahi. “We’ve been looking at candidates who have performance marketing experience from companies, such as Amazon and eBay,” she adds.

Analytics advantage

Digital marketing may have started with content, but since then has progressed deeper into generating revenue. “We’re focusing on people who know how to manage sales conversions through digital, understand data and drive performance through analytics,” says Wahi. Building this skill ammo has led to “50 per cent of our revenue coming from performance marketing”, she states.

Similarly, deep analytics has helped the rea-estate company understand and keep up with the customer’s entire journey. “From purchase to possession, our customer connect is typically five to eight years. We identified almost 13 touchpoints along the entire lifecycle,” shares Wahi, “To capture this journey, we need dedicated talent, skilled at customer analytics that is able to gather and interpret data on the customer’s mood, experience, lifestyle and preferences to develop solutions.”


Ravi Kyran

“Many of them want to see management support. Therefore, I try to get someone from the senior leadership to meet them, to let them know that they have the top management’s sponsorship.” 

 


Intelligent shopping

The shift to micro-specialised talent may be a planned and strategic move for most companies, but for Celio, it was a change forced by the pandemic. While brick-and-mortar retail took a hit this year, the months-long lockdown did not deter shoppers who simply turned to e-commerce.

“Our online business shot up drastically,” states Binny Ashish, head-human resources, Celio. To leverage this newly-created mass of online traffic, the men’s clothing retailer upgraded to AI-powered e-commerce. “We already had an online presence, but this year, the entire focus shifted to online retail like never before. Therefore, we suddenly required a lot of extra specialised skills there,” admits Ashish.

With the skill requirement manifesting almost overnight, there was no time to hire new talent or even create a profile. Instead, the company upskilled its existing talent to achieve its goals. “We brought the marketing, e-commerce and IT teams together; pooled in our best resources; sat with agencies to understand how things work; and facilitated training to equip these individuals for the task,” explains Ashish. This helped the French apparel brand “scale up our e-commerce business quickly”. Now that retail seems to be heading for an online boom, Ashish says, “We may consider hiring someone with the specific skills to take it further.”


Reena Wahi

“Performance marketing and customer analytics are two very critical skill sets that have evolved big time in the real-estate industry over the past year.”


Too many suitors

However, these micro-skilled experts are not easy to find. “The demand for these micro-niche skills sets is higher than the available pool,” points out Wahi. “It is now a buyer’s market. There are the likes of Google on one side that are also looking for similar talent. Therefore, attracting and retaining them is one of the biggest challenges.”

Kyran has a checklist to entice this super-skilled talent and it is not just about fat cheques. “The talent should feel valued and that is true for any company. Therefore, fundamentally, you have to ensure that the money is good,” he says, “but beyond that, the role has to be excellent. They come for the role so I have to structure it accordingly.”

It is not surprising that talent with micro-specialised skills comes with micro-special needs. Kyran explains, “I have to assure them that they will have the authority, flexibility and freedom. Therefore, the candidates can believe they are coming to a place where they can thrive. That’s very important to them.” This talent also wants to see on-ground action. “They want to see what they’re going to do in the company and whether it has a long-term impact. They want to work on real projects that they can add to their repertoire,” elaborates Kyran.

Lastly, micro-skilled talent wants patronage right from the top. “Many of them want to see management support,” points out Kyran. “Therefore, I try to get someone from the senior leadership to meet them. This tells them that they have the top management’s sponsorship. The prospect then becomes very attractive for them,” he points out.

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