Dual career paths reduce turnover

The practice of setting up dual career paths in information technology departments — one for technicians and one for managers — is paying off.

It’s helping to reduce turnover while enabling companies to build more efficient IT groups, according to those that have done it.

Two career paths also give IT workers two ways to rise in the organization: via the traditional way, by taking on management responsibilities, or by moving up a technical ladder.

In most cases, employees are allowed — even encouraged — to move between tracks.

At AlliedSignal Inc. in Morristown, N.J., turnover among the top technical performers traditionally has hovered around 25 per cent. “[Technical] people were leaving because they felt they had nowhere to go unless they went into management,” said Julian Kaufmann, corporate director for IT human resources.

But since the company rolled out a dual career system last summer, “we haven’t lost any top talent,” he said.

At Kraft Foods Inc. in Northfield, Ill., the practice, which has been in place for about four years, has helped reduce turnover from nine per cent to six per cent.

About 35 per cent of the company’s 1,000 IT staffers fall into the technical track, said Margaret Schweer, director of human resources for IT. “You can be very senior in our IT organization as an individual contributor,” she said.

It’s important to have a career ladder that satisfies technical gurus, said Linda Pittenger, president of People3 Inc., an IT consultancy in Somerset, N.J.

The lack of a career path for technicians and the tight IT labour market has led to a culture of job-hopping at many companies, observers said.

The dual career track “gives me a sense of control over my own destiny,” said Tom LaBonte, lead information systems analyst at AlliedSignal. As a 15-year company veteran who has had various job titles, “I can move into the more technical area, or I can go out and work more with customers [in the business unit],” he said.

The IT department at Sears Roebuck and Co. in Hoffman Estates, Ill., is rolling out a dual career path that will let a technician rise all the way to the level of company officer. “We know what motivates technical people is the work that they do and being recognized for it,” said Pam Cox, Sears’ workplace transformation manager.

In addition to improving retention, the dual career path push is being driven by a need to shore up certain IT competencies.

For instance, AlliedSignal is buying more packaged applications and needs fewer people to maintain legacy systems, Kaufmann said. “We need more project managers but not as many people managers,” he said. The dual career path will make it easier to grow the talent it needs, he said.

Setting up a dual career path often involves reclassifying all IT jobs and introducing new training programs. Cox said it will take Sears about a year to get its program in place. But the extra effort is worth it, Schweer said. “People love playing a big role in the development of their career.”