Round 2 of the IT Talent War

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In the middle to late 1990s, several companies approached the IT labor market like a trophy wife would approach Tiffany’s — they gobbled up talent because it was “nice to have,” with not nearly enough deliberation on how their new employees’ skills would actually serve the business. In this Golden Age of hiring, IT pros could brag about receiving huge salaries, great benefits, signing bonuses and other occupational perks — often with little to no experience. But that didn’t matter: These “new economy” knowledge workers were leveraging their mission-critical proficiencies to facilitate a more robust compensation paradigm. Or something like that.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to ever-increasing income bandwidth. Billions of dollars disappeared in a very short time in 2001, mainly because of overspeculation, most famously with regard to newly minted technology IPOs (although hardly limited to them).

When that happened, executives across the country shattered the “Do Not Break Except For Economic Emergency” glass, pulled out their layoff axes and started hacking off parts of their workforces. More than a few tech workers who’d been living la dolce vita only months before felt the cut.

Many industry experts now think we’re either on the verge of another war for talent on the order of what we saw a decade ago, or that we’re already in the midst of it. <P.“WE’RE

In the second round of this war, however, both sides have learned a few lessons. Companies are significantly more judicious with the people they hire, and they are predominantly adding staff with skills that fulfill precise organizational needs. For their part, employees have built up their capabilities in an effort to make themselves much more indispensable in the eyes of employers.

“They’re looking at the whole package,” said David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC. “There’s a higher percentage of the people in the workforce now who understand more than the code they’re writing or the database they’re working on. There are a lot more jobs in IT that are customer-facing. There’s also a higher possibility that you can lose these people to a competitor.”

How Companies Are Competing for You
Given that the IT talent war has a new dynamic, organizations will employ new strategies to attract and keep the top techies. One of the main ways they’ll do this is by offering new hires a career path instead of just a job, Gabrielson said.

“It’s really to develop more of a commitment to their employees so they can feel like there’s a real future for them in the organization: ‘Sure, there might be a few more bucks over here, but this is a career path. Let’s look at an end solution for you rather than a quick buck,’” he said. “If you look at the reason why people leave after five years, I think probably one or two on that list is no room for growth. Burnout’s probably up there, as well.”

Giving IT pros a career path helps keep them onboard by presenting them with new challenges and opportunities. This is especially key in the new “free agent” job market, in which employees change jobs frequently, Foote said. “In most of the surveys you see out there that ask whether people are passively or actively looking for new jobs, the number of people who are is usually in the 40 to 50 percent range,” he said. “People know right now that they have options, but I think companies are doing a better job of monitoring dissension in the workplace. I think they learned that lesson the hard way.”

Of course, salary remains a key differentiator in any competition for IT talent, but Foote said it’s not just about the money.

“(Compensation) is really important because people are keenly aware of their pay,” he said. “People are very interested in this topic. They want to be treated fairly: It’s a matter of respect.”

Brian Summerfield is senior editor for Certification Magazine. Send him your favorite study tips and tech tricks at brians@certmag.com.

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