IT workers: Love them or lose them

There’s reason to believe your small company’s IT professionals might be preparing to move on.

A recent survey by our company, IT World Canada, asked a range of questions to IT professionals regarding their job satisfaction and the looming skills shortages in their companies. More than 3,000 IT professionals from across the country participated in the survey – ranging from chief information officers to every imaginable type of IT technical staff. It included large and small companies, and seven core industry sectors.

Among other things, the research reveals there both a high demand for IT talent and an underlying desire by many IT professionals to move on to another opportunity. The survey found more than half of IT professionals – 53 per cent – said they are either actively or passively looking for a new job, both within and outside of their companies. While most admit it’s a passive search, meaning they’re keeping their ear to the ground for a more attractive employment situation rather than knocking on doors, there’s every reason to believe they’d readily make a move for the right deal and circumstance.

Those IT professionals in smaller businesses with less than 100 employees in particular are looking outside their companies. Survey results show 51 per cent of IT professionals here seek jobs at a different company, while only 2 per cent say they probably look for something different within the same organization.

Who’s hunting for IT talent these days? Just about everybody, and especially medium- and large-sized businesses. Approximately 58 per cent of those surveyed say their companies want to hire additional IT staff during the next year and 76 per cent of them will look outside their own companies. Of that percentage, 67 per cent say they’ll look to recruit from other companies. Research also showed small companies are more often made up of younger and less experienced IT people and it’s the younger crowd that according to survey are typically looking for new jobs. A total of 55 per cent of IT professionals surveyed aged 25 years or younger say they’re actively or passively looking for a new job at a different company. By comparison, only 19 per cent of those 45 years and older are likewise looking. Approximately 45 per cent of those with less than five years of IT experience seek employment at a different company, while only 33 per cent with 20 or more years of experience are similarly engaged.

It adds up to a potentially volatile situation in many companies. Mike Gregoire, the president and CEO of Taleo, a company that helps business track and manage employment talent through it’s range of online HR tools, says IT talent is always in demand. In fact, he says small businesses often shoot themselves in the foot since many tend to hire the wrong people simply because many don’t take the time to figure out the kind of person they actually want. He cites the example of a company seeking to hire a database administrator and bring on a specialist rather for a job that demands more versatile skills.

“They’d be better off looking for a broader based set of skills,” he says. “They end up with a finite skills person that doesn’t have the skills to do the other parts of the job they need done.” That person may end up leaving the company because of the poor fit, causing a particularly difficult problem for a smaller company that doesn’t have enough people to pick up the pieces. “If they would have taken a little bit more time, maybe paid a bit more or looked for a more broadly skilled person, or hired two people instead of one, maybe they would have been better off,” Mr. Gregoire reasons.

The key to hiring success is thinking strategically – something that’s extremely difficult for a typical small company locked into a firefighting tactical mode. But Mr. Gregoire suggests a strict hiring process that forces a manager to sit down with a recruiter to articulate the skills they are looking for – for now and for the future – pays off in the long run. In fact, he says human resource organizations within business should actually force the issue and demand that managers be specific about what constitutes success for that position.

“Spend the time figuring out what it is that you want,” Mr. Gregoire says. “(What are) the skills that you need and what will that person will be doing? You can hire a great person for the wrong job and the wrong person for the right job. If you do it right, you hire the right person and they stick around.” His other piece of advice to small business: “You want to punch above your weight.”

To do that your company needs to recognize that it is competing on a global scale for talent and it means that if you can’t look as professional and strong as any big company anywhere, then you can’t compete. It starts right from the first interview, he says.

“Everybody wants to be treated professionally,” Mr. Gregoire says. “If your process in bringing people into your company is haphazard and flakey, then you’re sending the wrong message. You’re going to lose.” And go the extra mile to keep the talent you have, he adds.

“You’ve got superstars in your company, so make sure they don’t leave,” Mr. Gregoire says, explaining many companies fail to realize the good people they have until they lose them. If many companies had been more diligent in things like performance management or shown greater appreciation to them in the form of rewards and incentives, maybe they’d still be with the company.

But it’s not simply about the money – especially when it comes to attracting IT talent. Our survey of IT professionals shows the benefits that most often appealed to IT professionals working in a small company were things like recognition of their valued opinions as employees, a more informal job atmosphere, and flexible work arrangements that traded off against things like a less financial stable company, less potential for skill development or a less generous benefits package.

“Technical people aren’t worried about risk,” Mr. Gregoire says. “They’re most afraid of wasting their time.”

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