Talent Trends & Themes That are Here to Stay in 2021

January 26, 2021

The year of 2020 seriously pushed people to their limits in more ways than one.

But if there is one thing people innately do when faced with adversity, it’s to adjust—no matter how adverse those new surroundings may be. That keyword “adjust” did not look the same for all talent. For some, it meant adjusting to working from home for the first time ever. For some, it meant looking for a new job or getting training to switch industries entirely after painful mass layoffs and furloughs. For some, it meant making their way back “home” whether that be their hometown or parents’ house.

In addition to the pandemic-induced changes, talent’s priorities shifted in other ways, too. According to DCI’s national talent research, Talent Wars, companies’ diversity policies and a city having a welcoming and friendly population are more important to talent than in previous years, for example.

Here are some of the major talent themes and trends that came from 2020, and what we predict we’ll see more of in 2021:

We started working remotely…and a lot of people liked it.
Rewind to mid-March of 2020: stay-at-home orders were rolling out and many offices were closing their doors, introducing an influx of temporary remote workers the world had never before seen. Contradicting headlines in the media waffled back and forth stating that remote work is the future whereas other stories iterated the inimitable advantages of humans connecting, socializing and working together in-person.

But the research doesn’t lie– when asked about remote work preferences in DCI’s Talent Wars report, 75 percent of respondents said they would prefer to either work from home full time or at least some of the time. A remote work study done by PwC revealed that 71 percent of employees and 83 percent of employers surveyed said that they felt the shift to remote work had been successful. Despite the convenience of working from home, most people surveyed (87 percent) agreed that the office is still important for building relationships and collaboration.

The pandemic shined a big, bright light on the skills gap.
Utilizing upskilling and reskilling programs to address the skills gap in the U.S. is by no means a new idea. However, when the hospitality, tourism and transportation industries (among others) came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people were out of work and without many, if any, immediate, alternative employment options. Meanwhile, many companies in IT, manufacturing and healthcare industries literally couldn’t hire talent fast enough.

For some people, their “old” jobs will never look the same—even post-pandemic—and they will be pushed to enter entirely different industries in order to make a living and rest in job security. Amid the pandemic, we saw places put more stock in upskilling programs such as Chattanooga’s dedicated website with resources for talent or Northern Virginia’s virtual career fair catered to laid-off hospitality workers who needed work and/or were interested in local, adult education programs and certifications. The good news? Talent is hungry to train. When surveyed, 82 percent of talent said they would be willing to undergo additional training or education to shift career paths (Source: DCI’s 2020 Talent Wars Report).

Talent wants to work at companies and live in cities that take diversity, inclusion and equality seriously.
Compared to previous years, talent is increasingly prioritizing diversity policies when considering careers. On a scale from one to 10, talent rated diversity policies at a company as a 7 out of 10—a half point increase compared to 2019, and almost a full point increase since 2017 (Source: DCI’s 2020 Talent Wars report).

It is not enough to merely talk about diversity policies and initiatives—places and companies alike must take action to facilitate a place of work and life that actively works toward being inclusive and not only welcomes diversity, but strives for it and celebrates it. Employers are being held accountable for taking real action whether that entails internal audits, bias training, an overhaul of current hiring processes, and more to pursue a more diverse and equal-opportunity workplace.

Everyone wants technologists and the competition is fierce.
While remote worker incentives popped up all over the U.S. (and world) in reaction to the pandemic, some incentive programs targeted tech talent specifically. For example, the Savannah Economic Development Authority announced the Savannah Technology Workforce Incentive, providing remote tech workers $2,000 worth of grants to relocate to Savannah.

As tech giants like Facebook and Twitter announce plans of allowing employees to work remotely forever if they so choose, technologists now have the freedom to move to locations with more room and lower costs of living all while maintaining their job security. According to Indeed, more than half of tech employees surveyed plan to move within the next 12 months. And they’re taking the opportunity.

Tech workers are saying farewell to San Francisco.
As the New York Times put it, “they can’t leave the Bay Area fast enough.” While collaborating in the office, the big city amenities and being in one of the top tech hubs in the world might have made up for inflated rent and high taxes at one point, we’re seeing that location alone doesn’t necessarily cut it without those perks or being tethered to a physical office.

This migration out of the area is resulting in lower demand and therefore lower rent prices. According to SFGate, rent prices in San Francisco were down 27 percent at the end of 2020. Where are technologists and tech companies headed? Locations with lower costs and lower taxes— or in Texas’ and Florida’s case, no state income taxes.

What can we expect in 2021?
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we really don’t know what next year holds—or next month for that matter. But if we were to predict talent attraction trends and themes in 2021, they’d look something like this:

  • Upskilling is going to play a large role in healing our workforce amid and post-pandemic. There simply will not be enough jobs to sustain all of the professions and industries that flourished pre-pandemic–companies and talent will need to adjust.
  • Remote worker incentives can work, but the market is getting saturated and it’s time to get creative. Though it will undoubtedly generate buzz, a remote worker incentive mainly driven by cash is no longer exactly unique; it’s going to take more than that to make a big splash.
  • If companies and places can support working mothers, they should. Students’ at-home learning is largely falling on the mothers, in many cases directly causing them to leave the workforce. According to NPR, “an eye-popping 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce—four times more than men.”
  • We will enter an era of a hybrid workforce. This isn’t necessarily true of 2021, but rather when gathering in groups is less of a threat—whether that be sometime this year or the next. When it is safe, however, we do not anticipate employers or employees to return to a fully in-person work environment.
  • Wooing and winning over tech talent is not going to get easier. If senior technologists didn’t have the world at their fingertips before, they do now. Without needing to be in the office or even in the city where their office is located, everywhere just became fair game.