Talent Wars

By David Chie Print this article Print

Shortages of workers in key areas make hiring and retention strategy a priority.

With unemployment rates still uncomfortably high across the nation, there is a misperception that IT talent must be plentiful. However, for many technical skills, the opposite is true. The shortage is so acute that it has been attributed to a rise in offshoring and bidding wars. To secure the tech talent they need, hiring managers must adopt a competitive hiring strategy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for technology pros has generally been half the rate of the U.S. labor market. Dice.com, a job board and recruiting network, reports that overall technology job postings on its site have grown 30 percent year over year. In its spring 2011 report, Dice stated: “This resurgence of full-time hiring amplifies the challenge of retaining top tech talent.”

Driving the demand for technology talent now is an insatiable need for Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python, Drupal and Salesforce.com developers. And skills in Java/J2EE, Oracle and C languages are dominating technology job boards.

In the case of JavaScript, the boom in cloud-based applications is fueling demand. In other cases, demand can be credited to the fact that personal and venture capital investing has picked back up and startups abound once again.

Meanwhile, the supply of technology talent needed to meet the swelling demand isn’t there. Many of these skills—particularly ones that require access to large amounts of data and analytics—can be acquired only at a few companies. Additionally, the new restrictions on the H-1B visa are shrinking the number of IT workers available to U.S. companies.

Most colleges have yet to incorporate some of the newer programming languages into their curricula. A recent Duke University study found that the U.S. software sector has the highest ratio of offshore to domestic employees, with nearly 13 offshore jobs per 100 domestic jobs.

This situation presents a major challenge for many hiring managers who don’t normally source IT professionals and don’t realize how this process differs from hiring an administrative assistant or a marketing director. Here are five tips to help these managers regain a competitive edge:

1. Move quickly on the right candidate. If you find the right candidate, move swiftly. This may require flexibility with your usual interview process. If you sense that you have found the right candidate, accelerate the pace or skip steps. For example, skip the phone interview and go straight to an in-person meeting. Take advantage of videoconferencing technology, or fit several steps into one by doing a panel interview.

2. Be flexible on cultural fit/presentation skills. Whereas a polished appearance or a match in corporate culture may be important for other positions, technology workers are not known for striving in this category, and the reality is that they don’t have to. It’s important to determine what’s really valuable: Moving a project ahead or nailing a perfect culture fit?

3. Be flexible on compensation. Google offers computer science majors fresh out of college $90,000 to $105,000. In fact, Palo Alto Staffing Technology was working recently with a Fortune 500 company that lost a candidate to a counter-offer it couldn’t match. Another recent example includes a client who came in low on the billing rate for an engineering position. The position stayed open for two-and-a-half months. When the company finally moved the billing rate up, it had lost the candidate. If you’re struggling to find the right candidate, identify the reason: Is it the rate? In this job market, you must be prepared to offer a competitive salary.

4. Demonstrate your support of work-life balance. With this population especially, flexible arrangements are a big draw. Often, a flexible work environment can be more attractive than a higher salary. Especially with in-demand skills such as the ability to work with Ruby on Rails and Salesforce.com, work-life balance amenities such as telecommuting can offer a significant amount of leverage.

5. Be creative with perks. Perks that were once considered extravagant are quickly becoming standard fare: In-house complimentary dry cleaning, restaurants and gyms are common. Google has a garden. Aptly called the Google Garden, employees go home with fresh bags of kale, avocadoes and tomatoes. Concierge services are another trend we’ve noticed, particularly in the startup community. When people are working around the clock, it’s smart to offer support services such as dog walking. Some of our clients offer free housecleaning. Purple Tie, a dry cleaning business in the Bay Area that offers corporate services, is adding new companies every day.

Remember, too, that perks can go beyond freebies: Many technology professionals want to work on cool products with intelligent people. The potential to work on the next big thing can be an alluring selling point.

The reality for many technology skills is that demand has never been so strong. Talent will go to the companies that are ready to compete for it.

David Chie is chief operating officer of Palo Alto Staffing Services in Palo Alto, Calif.   

This article was originally published on 2011-12-05
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