Companies use innovation to combat IT shortage

Canadian software and services firms are implementing a host of innovative human resources strategies to combat the problem of skilled IT professionals heading south of the border.

And it seems to be working.

Although a recent report from International Data Corporation (IDC) Canada, entitled Leadership Approaches to IT Talent, found that 39 per cent of mid-sized companies and 32 per cent of large companies suffer from the loss of IT talent to the U.S., several Canadian companies say they are fairing well, thanks to improved efforts to recruit and reward employees.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has recently adopted several strategies to recruit and remunerate employees. The first is a new concierge program, now being rolled out, that allows employees to call on a third party to service their car or pick up their dry cleaning, as well as many other tasks, all at an hourly rate which is then subsidized by the company.

“The concierge program is a recognition that consultants are very busy people. They tend to travel quite a bit and if they’re not travelling they’re working fairly long hours,” said Ross Hamilton, director of recruiting for management consulting services at Toronto-based PWC. “They often don’t have time to do all the little things that you normally do after work or on the weekends, [because] they’re travelling home or living in a hotel somewhere.”

Hamilton said the company also has a program called 5-4-3, in which employees working at a client site will put in five days of work over a four day period and only be away three nights if they are travelling.

Other perks include a bonus award for employees that take on medium- or long-term travel longer than three months, and week-long casual dress in the office unless meeting with a client.

At Montreal, Que.-based DMR Consulting Group, a career management program is tailored to meet employees’ needs. Jules Fauteux, director of recruiting and resource management, described the program as “a very structured mentoring system…that we use to help consultants to take charge of their career.”

Additionally, he said, “we help in what we call a 49/51 relationship where we take a 49 per cent stake and the employee takes a 51 per cent stake in their career. We spend time with them and they with us, trying to determine what it is they want to do.”

David Ross, recruitment manager at Ernst & Young in Toronto, said his company not only provides constant upgrades of information and leading technology, but a clear focus on the career objectives of employees. “We’ve had what is called an employee scorecard program for about three to four years and we’re finding that it’s very successful at ascertaining exactly where the employee wants to go,” he said.

The same is true for IBM Canada Ltd., where Terry Whittam, manager of HR, technology and staffing, said employees participate in individual development plans. In addition to a competitive benefits package, an internal referral bonus program, leading-edge work and a mentoring program, IBM also takes on a friendly face by providing new employees with buddies.

“For the first six months or so… we assign to our new hires a buddy…to help with any questions, concerns, anything that the employee wants to ask.”

So are all these strategies working? Seemingly, yes.

According to Whittam, IBM experienced a record year for hiring in 1998, with approximately 3,300 new employees brought on board. Whittam attributed the growth not only to business strategies, especially in the area of IBM Global Services, but an increased presence by IBM on campuses, the Internet and at career fairs.

“I have a hard time saying that there’s a shortage in my personal view because I’m able to hire, especially in some of the fastest growing areas of my business,” Whittam said, adding that last year alone IBM received over 60,000 r