Is Employee Upskilling The Missing Piece Of Your Talent Strategy?

Q&A with Ubisoft Talent Specialist Alex Lim

November 30, 2021

Alex Lim is Acquisition Lead for Ubisoft APAC and is based in Singapore. This month he shared some of his career journey and lockdown learnings with Skills Union CEO Colin Mansell. He revealed what Ubisoft is doing to build a talent pipeline in the games industry and why COVID-19 has forced companies to "think out the box."

Alex, please tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to join Ubisoft?

I joined the games industry about ten years ago in recruiting. It's been an exciting journey. Like many talent acquisition leaders today, I started in search agencies for the IT and Telco industries. Back then, the gaming industry was going through a real boom in Singapore. There were a lot of companies establishing a base over here, and I got more and more interested in watching their development.

I started working with a Japanese client and learned much more about what was going on in the sector, which I found increasingly interesting. Soon after, I was offered an in-house role, working as a talent acquisition manager.

It was a start-up environment, and I learned a lot, particularly about how the APAC region was growing and how gaming was becoming the next big thing! Through networking and referrals, I got the chance to meet with the Ubisoft folk, which is the largest games development company in Southeast Asia.

What has your work with Ubisoft been to date?

This is my second stint with Ubisoft. Between 2012 to 2018, I was primarily responsible for the talent acquisition function in Singapore. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to help start the same function in our Chengdu and Manila studios. I was extremely fortunate to support our Chengdu studio as the MD for Singapore took over this studio. Ubisoft Singapore was responsible for talent growth in the region. I was given the opportunity to set up the talent acquisition function in the HR Team.

I then left Ubisoft for a short time before coming back in June 2019.

Today, I'm managing global talent acquisition projects, including candidate experience, process improvement, market intelligence, and working with colleagues on the annual Ubisoft graduate program. Another part of what I do is connect the Ubisoft talent acquisition teams in Asia, building better synergies in the region. I'm also working on executive search, helping studios identify senior and critical positions such as production directors, creative directors, senior producers, and more.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

The time differences mean I need to stay agile in my working hours because I have to juggle early starts and late nights. It works well as I'm a parent to two young boys, so I'm up early anyway, taking them to school and coming home for a coffee before I start the day. So an excellent espresso coffee machine is essential to me!

In the morning (the first hour of my day), I think about what happened yesterday and what is important today. It's almost like I do a SCRUM with myself! I typically spend the first hour reading my emails and articles before assigning my tasks based on my priorities. The rest of the day is full of meetings with colleagues and conversations with candidates. I typically finish work between 18:30-19:30. Still, I may jump into another call later on due to time differences with colleagues. I'm not complaining - it's the new norm.

Working from home means it is essential to know when to take a mental break between work and home life. Once every few weeks, I take a day off from work and spend time with my family. I think it's important (despite the fact we live and work at home) that we ask ourselves: are we spending enough quality time with our family? Balancing work and mental wellness is a big topic!

How have you seen the working model at Ubisoft evolve as a result of COVID-19?  

The most significant difference for us is that we don't see people in person much anymore. Unfortunately, this means we've lost the pre-pandemic quick discussions, exchange of ideas, and spontaneous conversations we used to have.  

What we've done at Ubisoft is to create more sessions outside of work on topics that interest different colleagues. The first fundamental rule we've made is that employees should always have their webcam on and see one another. Even if your little child or pet is with you, it doesn't matter anymore! It's great to see one another beyond the workplace and know what else is going on in your life. Our leadership team joins, too, which is heartwarming to see.

Our talent experience team has also been putting on workshops during the lockdown period, including wellness, yoga, financial consulting topics, and more. This period has also allowed us to develop specific topics and targeted training programs for our employees and future managers.

We've even mandated the last Friday of the month as 'family day.' Our employees are encouraged to knock off at 4 pm to spend time with their families, enjoy dinner and start the weekend early. We've put these things in place because we know it's become a norm that everybody is working irregular hours most days. It helps when the company mandates you to get out of your work and take a well-deserved break!

Collaborating with my colleagues from different parts of the world has been another hugely helpful thing to do. That's been the most significant part of this for me. Even though time differences are a challenge with early mornings and late nights, it's okay because we're at home.

What are the skills gaps you're seeing, and what are some of the hires you are struggling to find?

One of the core programming languages used in our environment is C++ (a general-purpose programming language). Our game engine started working with C++ a long time ago. It's powerful, has tons of history behind it, and can be used with other languages like C# and Java. It allows for complex work within our game development process. However, it's a computing language skill set that isn't as available in the hiring market as Python or Golang.

The game engine that we are using is a beast, so it's not possible for us to just say we're going to scrap this game engine due to the complexity of the gaming world. We're talking about Assassin's Creed and Far Cry, which are our major franchises, and they have a massive codebase.

Every company does have similar challenges sourcing talent right now, but the answer shouldn't be merely offering big salaries. Instead, we need to think creatively about other alternatives. We've been working well to troubleshoot the skilled talent shortage through our Ubisoft internship programme and alternative recruiting (from other industries).

There used to be so many hiring requirements when we advertised roles, with job specs requiring applicants to have worked on other AAA games or done similar things in other game companies. But let's face it - Singapore is not a country where you have 24 AAA games development companies. There are only a few of us over here. So, we've reviewed our hiring strategy and now look at people passionate about joining our industry and have some of the fundamental requirements, not all.

Could you tell us about your internship and on-ramp programmes?

There is so much competition for talent in Singapore because it's such a great place for businesses and foreign companies to set up operations. There is also a significant tech presence here.

We have taken small steps to bring in high-potential graduates and students. The financial investment is minimal from a business perspective, but the potential ROI is significant. However, it's a complicated process to get it working. The first part is to come up with a strategic business roadmap. Once you've done this, you need to speak to each hiring manager to determine what skills and talent they need. Essentially, this is a future product that you're selling to them, and they might not see the ROI at the time, so anticipate that in your discussions.

It helps if you identify which hiring managers are interested in reviewing school projects or games. Then, you've got to bring them strong candidates. Students who can problem-solve and have the ability to think out of the box to resolve challenging problems are always favorable. When the students are given the opportunity, they know how to improve their portfolios, and their success means we rely on word-of-mouth marketing.

Many companies are using the same approach to attract great interns. Our challenge and opportunity is to build our brand so that students organically know about us.

There has been a massive rise in career switchers as a result of the pandemic. Have you seen this in your industry?

Yes! There were waves of retrenchments during the pandemic. Many of those affected took a career break to upskill and change professions. I think gaming is a very attractive option, and we've seen a lot of people, especially pre-pandemic, wanting a career change. 

What is really interesting is that the Singapore government has invested a lot in training on upskilling. We're working on a program with them (SkillsFuture), and the interest is very high. So I think this will continue moving forward. We're excited to be more involved and use this opportunity to build up our talent pipeline.

What tips do you have for new graduates trying to get into your industry?

We tend to see very similar resumes, so share a link if you have a relevant project to the role you're applying for! For example, we want to visit a website you have created, a game design, or simply your artwork. Include project(s) you've done in or out of school on your application - we are always curious to find out more about you. You don't need to build a website full of everything you've done - just two or three of your best work is good enough to show us what you can do. Tailoring a cover letter is so important. Don't draft one cover letter for many companies. You've got three or four years to think about what you want to do while you're in school, so use that time to craft your story.

Motivation and passion are what set people apart, not just GPAs. If you've been playing games and it's been your passion since you were young, make that visible to a recruiter or the person in HR. And if you're an engineer, go ahead and try hackathons. It doesn't cost you anything because most of the events are free. So give it a shot as it shows a lot about your passion.

Are you looking for people with degrees? For example, Google has scrapped the requirement for degrees, which we’ve found to be an interesting move. 

It depends on the job. For more technical roles, the degree is a minimum requirement. If we're talking about engineering, you need to have a certain level of exposure to the subjects covered in a degree. But if we're talking about some non-technical positions, then does it really matter? 

So, for fresh graduates, it's probably a degree, but let's not forget that there are polytechnics available in Singapore which give different accreditations. Ubisoft Singapore has many successful cases of diploma holders holding very senior roles in the organization today.

Finally, what are you most excited about in this post-pandemic world, now that we're seeing some kind of light at the end of the tunnel? 

Well, the big question is if the pandemic is coming to an end? I think COVID-19 has got many companies to think outside the box. I’ve found Ubisoft has done so many things differently in the last two years outside, compared to what we did in the past. It also got people thinking about productivity versus time spent physically in the office. That equation used to be a mess, linking productivity to the time you clock at the office!

I think huge credit needs to go to our IT and Workplace teams. They were able to transition everybody out of the studio and into home working - they have been amazing. 

The pandemic has allowed people to work flexible hours and engage with colleagues differently. The challenge is to continue to think differently and ask ourselves: What can we do differently today that impacts tomorrow? This is the question that I’m enjoying bringing to my work. On a personal note, I’m looking forward to traveling with my family again, which we have not done for two years!

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