Program and Passion: The Competition to Recruit and Retain Top Tech Talent

By Michael Alicea, SVP & CHRO, Global Human Resources, Nielsen

Michael Alicea, SVP & CHRO, Global Human Resources, Nielsen

Fostering passion and diversity has a number of positive effects on Nielsen’s business and on our employees. We measure consumers of all types, and therefore, it would make sense that our company would reflect the multicultural nature of the clients we serve and the diversity of the consumers that we measure. The impact that diversity has on organizational development cannot be overemphasized. Nowhere is that impact more evident than across our vast landscape of more than 20,000 tech-focused associates and 10,000 tech-focused consultants. As the Human Resource Leader for a core division of Nielsen, I like to say that Nielsen is the technology company you never knew was a technology company. You might think this would pose an issue in attracting and retaining quality tech talent, but that is not the case. This is largely due to Nielsen’s commitment to early talent identification, programmatic training and skills contemporization for career associates, community engagement in STEM initiatives, and committing whole-heartedly to diversity.

"The Nielsen formula for retention and recruitment is underscored by identifying talent and rewarding passion"

Identify Talent Early and Deploy Them Throughout the Enterprise

We are incredibly deliberate about creating systems and programs that not only build the pipeline for strong technology talent, but these programs are designed to keep talented associates engaged and excited about staying and growing with Nielsen long term. For instance, our Emerging Technologists Program consists of people who really want to create and manage projects that allow them to work on the newest and most innovative assignments. We identify these candidates early in their careers and provide them with accelerated growth and training, mentoring and opportunities to keep their skills current and contemporary. The same is true with our Emerging Leaders Program. This two-year, global rotational program is focused on driving the convergence of data, processes, tools and people. Emerging leaders develop innovative technology and process improvement solutions to help clients grow and compete. This also gives us the added benefit of creating reverse mentoring opportunities that would not naturally occur. A benefit of looking at how technology is evolving and changing inside a global enterprise is being able to juxtapose what is required in emerging markets versus mature markets. We give associates the opportunity to see how a global technology company has to adjust to infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Asia or the U.S. while still delivering on our value promise to clients.
Nielsen’s associate development programs provide overseas assignments for employees to build new skills with the interest and excitement of a startup. Additionally, this allows them to bring that enthusiasm back to the business and share their new skills with associates at home. Participation in Nielsen-sponsored industry conferences and speaking opportunities also help build the confidence of future thought leaders who will soon be recognized in the industry as subject matter experts. Additionally, a strategy that we use to keep our Emerging Technologist Program at the forefront of company planning is to always make using their talents part of the discussion in the post M&A integration process.

Balance Building Expertise and Keeping Skills Current

Talent retention in technology fields requires a unique approach. Engagement and retention is fostered by an innovative balance of developing subject matter experts with deep specialties in certain technologies while still allowing employees with 7-10 years of experienceto keep skills fresh and contemporary. We leverage our Tech-X Program, (tech experience) to keep our employees engaged in the work they’ve mastered, while concurrently assigning them to new tech initiatives to broaden their expertise across the talent matrix, thereby keeping their skills from atrophying from years of specialization. We use these leadership programs to grow talent through the entire lifecycle of an employee’s career.

Contemporizing capabilities of employees is a true retention tool for employees. Next year, because Nielsen has an early stage startup incubator, we will pilot a program to lend technology talent to companies in our startup portfolio. This has the promise to reinvigorate our career technologists, offer seasoned talent to our incubator investments and give those associates the opportunity to bring the insights they acquired in our startup community back to Nielsen. The opportunities for growth, retention and skills contemporization are truly exciting.

The Nielsen formula for retention and recruitment is underscored by identifying talent and rewarding passion. Our innovative training assignments like the Emerging Technologists Program and the Emerging Leaders Program continually engage future thought leaders by encouraging their interests, allowing them to develop new skills and exposing them to new ideas in the industry to fuel innovation and propel the business forward.

STEM Recruitment and the Diversity Multiplier Effect

Nielsen is committed to supporting STEM initiatives and makes a special effort to support those initiatives in diverse communities. We have set a target to have 50 percent of the Emerging Technologists Program cohort be from diverse ethnic and educational backgrounds. If successful, within a matter of five years, the whole landscape of engineering at our company could change. Diverse hires have a multiplier effect. As they do well within the company, the hope is that these future leaders will help recruit other African American, Hispanic and Asian technologists. On a broader scale, the potential of 50 percent of our engineering team being diverse hires increases the chance for all our associates to have mentors and role models from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds.

Similarly, it is important for us to recruit new hires from a wide variety of schools and universities so that we identify stellar multicultural talent. We have rejected the trend to only recruit engineers from the “usual suspects” schools. We make the effort to look for talent at schools in communities where we have operations and where there are diverse student bodies.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in science and engineering occupations will grow 70 percent faster than the overall growth for all occupations, and average earnings for STEM professionals will be 70 percent higher than the national average. We understand the amount of competition in the marketplace for stellar tech talent, and we have been deliberate and strategic with our approach to continue to win that talent. Nielsen invests in associates throughout their tenure with the companyfrom entry level to mid-level to our senior leaders, and our programs and program graduates foster a culture of retention. We begin our recruitment practices with diversity and inclusion in mind, and we have found that to be one of our greatest assets with positive implications showing up all throughout the business. Associates continue to see new opportunities to grow with us year after year. Our development programs help focus us on Innovating and creating value for our clients, differentiating ourselves in the marketplace and driving a variety of perspectives into the products/services we create. That is good for innovation and we all know innovation is good for business.

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