Growing demand for talented people means that many iGaming companies are competing hard to attract potential industry stars. In this round-table feature, we talk to David Copeland, founder of betting jobs, Jamie Webb, HR manager at Call to Action, Huddle’s co-founder and chief strategy officer Leo Gaspar and head of people and culture Josipa Marenic, and Mike Kelly, chief HR officer at OpenBet, to find out how some of the iGaming industry’s leading companies are meeting the personnel challenge.
Salaries are increasing and technical skills are at a premium. How can the iGaming industry continue to grow in the face of recruitment challenges?
DC: Our industry is really attractive. But ensuring we project that positive image is central to continued growth. More and more industries are looking for highly skilled candidates, so iGaming needs to prioritize talent acquisition as part of a wider growth strategy. In our experience, a close recruitment relationship with a trusted partner really helps companies sell the benefits available, particularly to iGaming newcomers. The available talent now receives more approaches than ever before, offering higher and higher salaries to capture attention. There is no substitute for being able to offer a substantive and reasoned proposition that backs up an interesting headline with evidence of value.
Keeping pace with candidate expectations is also essential, particularly in the wake of the last eighteen months. For example, where once remote working was a perk offered in place of an extra salary point or two, it is now an additional level of flexibility that is necessary to compete with many modern firms in the hunt for talent.
MK: Compensation is just one aspect of the overall hygiene factor. The key driver in attracting and retaining talent is establishing an effective employee value proposition (EVP), the unique set of benefits that an employee receives in return for the skills, capabilities and experience they bring to a company. Additionally, it is critical that we provide interesting and challenging work that allows employees to develop their skill and add tools to their toolbox. As a business, enabling the opportunity to achieve personal growth and improve their quality of work is equally if not more important than compensation.
Similar to the tech space, within our industry employees are looking solve the biggest and ugliest problems tech challenges in online betting. Opportunities for learning and development can prove highly engaging for them, whilst simultaneously advancing a company’s own horizons and increasing the potential for innovative concepts. It requires a balancing act between onboarding, training and developing key skills, which will inevitably present fewer recruitment challenges, as well as result in new and existing staff becoming more efficient in their respective roles.
JW: The iGaming industry appeals by being dynamic and full of opportunities for quick progression through the ranks. You only have to see how far the industry has come over the past few years to understand how ideally suited it is to young, hungry professionals seeking to make their first real mark in the world of employment. As an industry, we need to connect with educational institutions and young professionals themselves at an early stage to show them what we can offer, in comparison to other sectors. We need to appeal to their imagination and good employer branding is becoming an increasingly key component in projecting a forward-looking image that appeals to young, ambitious people and their values.
LG: There has never been as much demand for talent within the iGaming industry as there is right now – it is suffering from a lack of industry expertise. This is mostly due to the US market opening up, as well as increased movement within LatAm and other markets.
Demand for talent, new products and services is at its peak. The obvious question here is how a startup like Huddle can compete against industry giants when attracting and retaining talent?
Startups are now more appealing than ever in this industry, and quite a few of them are attracting some of the best talent available. There are a few key factors: the demand for niche products in order to differentiate, the demand for scalable solutions in order to serve the global market using modern tech, developing new skills using best practices from other industries, an empowering culture, autonomous cross-functional teams vs waterfall management style, etc.
At Huddle, we approach this with the proper planning of both a product roadmap and technical resources. If we want to grow, we cannot focus solely on hiring new talent. We put a lot of emphasis on how we approach people who join us, and for us hiring means quality over quantity. As a startup, we need to be agile in every sense. Startup life is fast, dynamic and ever-changing, so people joining one need to embrace that culture. Hiring quality talent means bringing people who can adapt quickly and develop their skills further. Instead of hiring new people continuously, we have to re-think the whole process and build a cultural environment where people will want to stay, grow and develop. This might be the biggest challenge to overcome in a fast-growing environment, rather than recruiting itself.
How can the industry compete with other forms of entertainment in attracting the best caliber of candidates?
JW: Employer branding plays a major role in this process. As an employer, you must offer a clear idea of what your values are and also deliver on what you promise. Clear career opportunities, the right salary, training budget, sufficient freedom in planning your work and a challenging, stimulating working environment are all key aspects of becoming an attractive employer. As a vibrant tech industry, iGaming is perfectly positioned to harness these latest techniques.
LG: The iGaming industry has so much to offer, and with increasing expansion into other markets it feels as if we are just starting to show the potential of opportunities for the best caliber of candidates. The candidates we are looking for are the ones who are driven by problem-solving, complex challenges and a steep learning curve. The iGaming industry is the right environment for those things, so they will naturally be attracted to join. Our job is to bring this closer to them by doing a better job at advertising opportunities.
DC: The competitive nature of our space and the constant need for innovation is a real draw for highly skilled candidates keen to keep the most modern skills and tools on their CV. Paired with an informed view on what direction the wider employment market is moving in, and what candidates will be offered elsewhere, the industry is more than capable of competing.
A rounded understanding of our industry and how it measures up against these competing ones in scale of organization, rate of expansion and prospect for continued growth is also a highly valuable asset. We place real importance in our team on monitoring industry movement and developments. We need to know the mergers and acquisitions of the day, the impact this has on business reach and market cap, and where that places our industry in the conversation. Many iGaming brands now sit at the top table and remind candidates of that when they’re considering employment opportunities in the industry can offer real weight to the package.
MK: Helping both consumers and potential employees understand how regulated betting gives back to communities, is vital in breaking down barriers and perception of our industry. At OpenBet, we emphasize that our products and services are purely created to deliver sports betting entertainment to fans worldwide in regulated markets. We are also strong advocates of promoting responsible and safe gambling, illustrating to potential candidates from outside the industry that we are serious about entertainment and the welfare of all end users.
Widening the talent pool available to us is important to not only secure new recruits but also to bring fresh ideas and concepts to the table. We have to highlight to those outside our industry what makes sports betting content and technology so special, along with the complex challenges we face at scale and at volume. We believe this aspect can be used as a way of drawing new candidates into the world of online betting entertainment.
Shifting and expanding the demographic of our workforce will help us to compete for talent. Today, women comprise roughly 20% of employees in the gaming industry, which means we are missing out on a huge talent pool. Senior OpenBet executives including Chief Commercial Officer, Cathryn Lai, and Runa Walia Desai, VP Marketing, are great advocates for our business given their esteemed reputations. Fundamentally, providing a platform for more females in the workplace is just one aspect of a company’s overall Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative. We aspire to build a workforce that is mirrors the demographics of the geographies that we operate in, providing talented individuals from all backgrounds, perspectives, preferences and beliefs the opportunity for a career at OpenBet.
Are there any other industries that the iGaming world could look to for sourcing new talent?
MK: It is much easier on the development side in the online betting world to capture talent from further afield, as we can look to virtual and augmented reality, financial services and online retail sectors, for example. Likewise, those with experience in big data and real-time systems can easily adapt to the demands of a sports betting technology company.
We take a different approach when it comes to attracting new traders, preferring to build new talent rather than buy. The role of a sports betting trader is somewhat different compared to other industries, particularly those from within banking who expect a large renumeration package despite not having the required skillset. Instead, we work closely with colleges and universities to offer entry-level opportunities and the prospect of career development within an exciting and progressive company. Likewise, if you hire strong engineers with good business acumen you can teach people to do just about anything. Betting is moving away from being merely transactions-based to offering an immersive experience, meaning any industry that is driving consumers through a thorough UX is a great place to source new talent.
DC: High-transactional e-commerce has long been the go-to hunting ground when bringing new talent into the iGaming sector. Exposure to customer databases of similar size, facing challenges of operating customer-facing platforms in real-time, and rapid growth have presented a clear and relevant path for talent to cross. Highly regulated industries, such as finance, also provide a head start for talent in adapting to the multi-regional and often-changing demands of working in iGaming. More recently, the rapid evolution of cryptocurrency and related blockchain industries have also supplied substantial numbers of talented individuals. This has been particularly fruitful when working with iGaming clients who are also embracing that sector in their own products and platforms.
The competitiveness of the employment market and the demand for highly skilled talent is also bringing more of this talent to the fore. There are more companies than ever before with technical innovation at the core of their business.as their workforces grow so too does the talent available in the industry.
JW: I think rather than being about targeting a specific branch, it’s more about focusing on a candidate’s competencies instead of just skills and knowledge that are particular to the iGaming industry. Take a look at the hospitality industry, for example. Employees in this sector have a proven ability to work under pressure, often enjoying a lot of variety in their roles, which they combine with study. If you can offer them a part-time job and teach them skills, you have employees who could potentially stay with you for a long time.
JM: The simple answer to this question would be yes! At Huddle, we have a good understanding of all the pain points within the industry, so we can look elsewhere to see how they can be solved. We have found successful solutions in areas like big data, product design, application of AI and machine learning, etc. We have fully embraced product and data-driven culture from other industries. We are trying to think outside of the box, and as much as it is easier to hire people within the industry, there are perfect fit candidates in the many tech companies across various industries that have already solved some of the problems we as an industry are still facing. As we mentioned, hiring quality over quantity means also hiring people with great potential to easily take their acquired knowledge and skills and adapt them to the needs of our industry.
Has the widespread adoption of remote working practices widened the scope of who you are able to recruit into the business? What difficulties does this trend present in terms of workplace collaboration?
JM: Remote work helps us to reach the top talents across the globe, and it greatly facilitates the growth and development of both the business and the product. When hiring remote staff, it is usually easier if they are more experienced, preferably with industry knowledge, because in practice it has been shown that they are onboarded much faster and remote cooperation is more efficient, although this isn’t always the case.
We solve the challenges of remote work by focusing on building the best possible collaboration and communication throughout the organization. Since we have a smaller number of people who are completely remote, we try to involve them as much as possible through this very close collaboration and cooperation. However, even though we are living in the pandemic era, the majority of our employees like to come to the office and they like to have that option available because collaboration is much easier, simpler, and faster, and more importantly they like to be among their colleagues and socialize. It is great to give employees an option to choose what better suits their needs.
JW: Working time-and-place independently ensures that the time taken to commute is less important. To allow employees to work strictly remotely, your organization must be able to manage fully on output and pay extra attention to the bonding of, and communication with, employees. It is certainly possible, but it also requires a lot of resources. Some functions of remote working are ideal to use within a trial setting. For instance, we work with groups of students who collaborate on clearly defined projects whenever they’ve got spare time.
MK: The traditional office setup where employees work at a desk five days a week is archaic and outdated. Covid was a game-changer that accelerated OpenBet’s transition to be more flexible and hire individuals that were not necessarily within commuting distance of one of our office locations.
We are introducing a return to office strategy that is heavily centered around a hybrid model, with some employees coming into the office and others staying at home on a more regular basis. Again, this requires a balancing act between an employee’s own preferences and the interests of the company relating to its overall business strategy – delivering a world-class service for customers. A level of flexibility allows for in-person meetings that encourage collaboration and brainstorming, as well as the opportunity for workers to stay at home when focusing on existing projects. This hybrid model does bring its own challenges, such as tech issues and enabling new starters to understand a company’s own work culture. However, strong leadership and management teams are essential to overcoming these hurdles to get the most from their employees.
DC: The speed at which remote working has been adopted during the last two years has widened the pool of talent available. But it also presents challenges.
In theory, many of the geographical barriers to hiring have been removed and this has allowed many of our clients to look beyond their local markets. Predominantly in technical hiring, removing the expectation of significant office time has enabled high-growth employers to scale at pace and embrace fully at-home talent across multiple locations. Accompanied by a tight and thorough recruitment process and then established channels of proactive communication, this can be a solution that works for many.
There is a salary impact to be considered here. , Hiring remote talent in some regions was once an opportunity for employers to avoid the increasing salary levels in major cities. But candidates are now able to hold more universal salary expectations and compete with the rest of the market regardless of location.
Of course, the lack of face-to-face collaboration often presents challenges – and we have been no stranger to these challenges ourselves. We all need to find accommodate remote working but ensure we perform and provide to the same high standard that we set ourselves.
Clear communication is most important. Employees still need to be heard, perhaps even more so when proximity is an added barrier.
The definition of ‘remote working’ is constantly evolving too, so this is something that we will all need to follow in order to retain any hiring advantage. Where once remote was remote, it can now be hybrid or remote from a set location with specific travel expectations. A flexible model which empowers employees to complete their day-to-day work from home whilst maintaining the infrastructure to bring people together at essential times seems to be the one which is working for most of our clients.
How important is employer branding in the recruitment process?
DC: Employer branding should be a key consideration for all. In a market where candidates receive more offers than ever before, having credible and visible value beyond the promise of a salary increase can make all the difference in securing and retaining the talent your business needs.
As recruiters, we’re often the first point of contact that prospective talent has with their prospective employer. That makes us a significant extension of employer branding, especially for smaller companies that might not have significant HR resources themselves. It is imperative that we’re able to convey an accurate, attractive message with trust on their behalf. Central to this ability is having a close relationship with the employer and really understanding their business. Having that relationship really empowers us with a 360-degree view of the business, allowing us to go beyond the bare details of a job proposition.
As our industry expands, however, the world of reputation management is shrinking. Individuals can now communicate their experiences within their existing firm, or indeed their recruitment experience with prospective employers, in an instant. An awareness of how your business is being spoken about online and an active effort to project an accurate image of your value to talent can make the world of difference.
MK: Following the rebrand of OpenBet, we are currently rebuilding our Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and identifying ways to make sure we are attracting the right talent. What is the look, feel and tone of voice of OpenBet? This is a question we often ask ourselves to discover who we are, and the findings allow us to build upon our core values. This in turn is a great tool to reach prospective candidates who share the same enthusiasm and passion that we hold for sports betting entertainment.
We also believe each employee should be a brand ambassador for our company where they are engaging with the content online, distributing it through their own social media profiles, and perhaps recruiting people they know who have similar values and work ethics through this engagement.
JW: It’s getting more and more important. Employees want to know who they work for and what a company stands for, besides the business. Supporting charities, sustainability, the climate, and reducing your carbon footprint are all topics that will appeal to younger employees and are important to include in your branding.
JM: Building a relationship with potential talents across other industries, as well as the IT community itself locally and globally, is of essential importance. Great talents very often don’t want to apply to job ads, they want to build relationships with the company and the people who work there, and this cannot be achieved without strong employer branding. This is something we are continuously working on and there is a long road ahead.