March 29, 2010

Industry Hiring Picks Up—Are You Ready?

by John W. Stout

The IT industry job market is warming up. Pent up demand from tabled software engineering projects and overall increased national productivity is fueling a measurable boost in hiring.
Salary caps, generally depressed for the past two years, are also edging back up.

Kiplinger, the respected DC news organization, predicts that despite flat corporate infrastructure investment in 2010, US firms will spend about 3% more to meet demand for backlogged IT needs. The organization also noted that the demand for skilled IT professionals once again outstrips supply, as 60% of businesses in certain industries say it's difficult to find qualified employees.

What does that mean? Once again, it's becoming more challenging to find the technical talent companies require to complete projects and get their software products to customers, as well as hire the talent to fortify their internal IT structures and provide support services. As to this later point, Robert Half's survey of Chief Technology Officers show that the specific IT skills most in demand:

  • network administration (70%)
  • end-user desktop support (66%)
  • Windows OS administration (62%)
  • database management (58%)
  • and wireless network management (52%).

In another survey, 58% of the Chief Information Officers surveyed plan to hire in the second quarter, with a third of those CIOs bringing in a mix of full-time employees and contractors.

Two years ago, I wrote about an apparent IT Industry "Brain Drain"—a regional as well as national problem. And while we certainly aren't experiencing the heavy industry activity of pre-2008, it's worth noting what all of us must again confront about hiring.

People who have been underemployed during the business slowdown—those stuck in either dead-end positions or those who were forced to accept underemployment to keep income flowing in—will now be endeavoring to get their careers back on track. Some of these people will have the talent and experience to select from multiple job offers. One strategy that has been effective for employers we know is to hire more senior technical personnel with legacy skills and retrain them. They know most everything there is to know about software development practices, how to develop quality code, how to prevent bugs, etc. Many of these people would join a company at a reasonable annual salary if they knew that they would be retrained and then advanced in position.

An employer who doesn't respond to the changing marketplace (a) will not attract the highest quality candidates, and (b) will frequently lose the ones they have. Human resources managers, CTOs and engineering managers would be wise to re-assess career growth paths within their own companies.

A company's own technical employees are its best ambassadors. Therefore, a company has to do everything possible to make the work environment and rewards as attractive as possible. This not only draws new employees, but it also motivates its current employees to recruit for the company. Here are suggestions:

  • Offer compensation packages that include benefits technical people consider desirable. As a note on compensation, we find IT salary surveys are too often useless; they treat technical talent as a canned commodity and ignore the hard fact that talented IT professionals know what they are worth and will frequently command more than a salary survey suggests. To understand that talent is not a commodity is to have a mindset for attracting the best.
  • Institute better development processes and, where it makes business sense to do so, migrate off legacy technologies onto new ones, especially where these will benefit the company with long term cost-savings. In Stout's own consulting business service, we find this is the most significant source of improvement in a company's efficiency and bottom line. In general, technical people do not like to be working with out-dated technologies and they really don't like to work in an environment that discourages quality development practices.
  • Institute training programs for employees, especially on new technologies and methodologies. This could be in-house training or company-supported seminars.

A company must have descriptive job postings designed to interest talented job seekers. Too many ads that Stout's recruiting and staffing pros see are written with a "seller's market" attitude. An ad must be written to market how great the job is. An ad should speak to how exciting the project and technologies are, how progressive the company is technologically, emphasize the quality of the work environment and location, and how great the benefits are—while, as much as space permits, providing specifics about each of these points. Note that, by our own surveys of employment candidates, the technology and location points are key.

It also never hurts to better connect with and support the local software community. This means a company should get more visible to the people it needs to attract. No one will have stronger credibility with other technical people than a company's own techies, so have them attend networking events, user groups and technical society meetings; one company I know rewards their "spokespeople" with gift cards for attending such meetings.

In summary, it is vital to understand that, despite less-than-attractive national unemployment numbers, jobs are not scarce in every sector. The companies that recognize that IT is not one of those suffering sectors will have the jump in the competitive hiring market.

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877.663.0877
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