Invest in your IT talent; it's the key to retention

Tips for stepping up professional development efforts for IT staffers

If you want to attract top IT talent to your company, you'll need to offer meaningful professional development opportunities. The best IT workers no longer just want employers to invest in their growth; they're starting to expect them to do so.

Many businesses cut training and development during the recent recession and have been slow to revive such programs. This could become a problem as demand for skilled IT workers intensifies. In a recent Robert Half Technology survey, 87% of the CIOs polled said that they're optimistic about their companies' growth prospects. However, 65% said that finding IT talent to help them achieve that growth is already a challenge.

The organizations on Computerworld's 2012 Best Places to Work in IT list held on to their most valued IT workers during the downturn by providing employees with technical training, supporting their efforts to pursue continuing education and giving them challenging assignments. If your company needs to step up its professional development efforts, look to the Best Places for ideas and inspiration -- and consider the following strategies for success:

Ask staffers what they want. Professional development isn't a one-size-fits-all process, so it's essential to understand what individual employees feel they need in order to cultivate a rewarding career in your organization. You'll probably have to have this discussion regularly -- particularly with your most valued team members -- because their interests and goals will change over time.

Creating an individualized approach to professional development is easier and less expensive than you might think. Challenging and diverse assignments, opportunities to lead projects, and mentoring or cross-training arrangements are just some of the vehicles that can help people develop new skills. And if IT workers ask for education or training that isn't available in-house but could benefit the organization as a whole, offer to support their training under the condition that they'll share what they learn with their colleagues.

Allow for autonomy and promote teamwork. Most IT workers want to feel empowered to solve problems and make decisions on their own. At the same time, many are eager to work in a collaborative environment where they can openly share ideas and opinions.

To meet these expectations, strive to provide a balance of solo and team projects. Also look for opportunities to promote sharing of knowledge and best practices: For example, when team members successfully troubleshoot a challenging problem, ask them to share the outcome so colleagues can solve similar problems in the future.

Help workers develop other skills. Many leading employers are investing specifically in the development of their IT workers' soft skills. IT, once a behind-the-scenes function in most organizations, is now much more visible -- and much more vital to everyday operations. By sharpening their interpersonal skills, IT staffers will not only be able to work more effectively with others inside and outside of their department; they'll also put themselves in a better position to someday assume leadership roles.

For many small to midsize companies, having an in-house IT department is a fairly new concept. This is one reason why IT personnel are sometimes overlooked for growth opportunities that other employees are offered routinely. But like most professionals, IT workers want to continually expand their knowledge and skills -- and they want more control over their careers.

Next: Opinion: Attract talent by building the IT community at large

John Reed is senior executive director of Robert Half Technology (, a provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from Web development to network security and technical support.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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