Head of HR on the shortage of skilled workers

“We want to recruit IT experts in Rotterdam to make up for gaps in Switzerland.”

The ‘war for talent’ is a term that has been doing the rounds for several years now. Skilled professionals are increasingly sought after, companies are vying to attract the best candidates – and, at the end of the day, many vacancies remain unfilled. What is the solution? Swisscom has launched a range of initiatives to promote training and educational opportunities within the company and Switzerland as a whole. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been enough. We therefore feel that we have no option but to look beyond the Swiss border and open a DevOps Center in Rotterdam. Here, highly specialised ICT developers will take on roles which Swisscom has been unable to fill in Switzerland, despite internal development measures, repeated external advertisements and the use of all networking channels. Hans C. Werner, Head of Group Human Resources at Swisscom, explains in an interview why this step is necessary.
Esther Hüsler
Esther Hüsler, Media spokesperson
20 March 2019

Hans Werner, has Swisscom been remiss in addressing the demand for IT professionals?

No, on the contrary. We have been watching this development with concern for some years now and have taken a range of individual measures that have yielded good results to an extent. On their own, however, these measures are not enough. We are rated the top employer on the labour market – the careers website XING's labour market compass (Arbeitsmarktkompass) names us the most attractive employer in Switzerland. We also recruit trainees and interns directly from university and train 950 apprentices, half of whom work in the field of IT. This is in addition to our fast-track ‘Way up’ programme for school-leavers and the graduates we recruit from Universities of Applied Sciences. It has, however, become apparent that these efforts do not go far enough – demand for ICT specialists still greatly outstrips supply.

Could you not simply train up existing employees and equip them with the necessary skills?

That is correct and is also very important. And our commitment to grant each employee five days of training each year, which has been enshrined in the collective employment agreement since the start of this year, represents another important step in this direction.
Besides hiring new employees, we also provide targeted training in areas where we have identified needs. One such example is DevOps Mastery, which teaches methods for rapid implementation in software development. Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem, because the main issue is a lack of specialised skills that can only rarely be addressed by an apprenticeship or retraining. As a software developer today, you need to have developed a very specific mindset and be able to work on solutions at the highest level, and this usually requires a university degree lasting several years.
The fact is that competition for these qualified candidates has escalated – not only because of Google and Facebook, but also because, as a direct result of the digitisation of their business models, the majority of industries are seeking the same skills.

Does this mean that Switzerland has fallen short in its responsibilities?

On the contrary, much has been done in recent years to promote computer science training and advanced specialist training at colleges and universities, and to increase the training budget at Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology. Back in 2011, it also launched an initiative to combat the shortage of skilled workers. Although this initiative has come to an end, the Confederation remains focused on its skilled workforce policy. At the end of the day, however, you cannot force people to become IT specialists.

Do you now hope to find these people in the Netherlands?

Rotterdam is becoming an attractive location and brings together talent from all over the world. We therefore believe that this is where we will find the professionals we urgently need and which, despite our best efforts and repeated job advertisements, we have been unable to find in Switzerland.
We initially plan to recruit forty people at the DevOps Center Rotterdam and evaluate the experience to determine the further course of the project. If successful, we would then continue the recruitment drive, potentially increasing this number to 200 if required. We are under no illusions, however, of the competition we also face here in attracting talent, so we must ensure that the package we are offering is suitably appealing.

Does that mean you are no longer looking within Switzerland?

On the contrary, we will continue to do everything within our power to develop our in-house employees and also to ensure that Swisscom remains attractive to local talent. There are still lots of very interesting roles advertised at www.swisscom.ch/jobs for example.

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Hans C. Werner is Group Head of Human Resources and has been a member of the Group Executive Board since 2011.