Top-level talent: Hiring gets harder, turnover rising

IT leaders are working harder to find and keep top talent

When Bill Corley sought to hire an entry-level help desk worker four years ago, he received 500 responses from highly qualified candidates within two days of posting an ad on Monster.com.

When he posted the same job a few months ago, he had only 40 responses after a week.

"People who were unemployed four years ago are now either reabsorbed or are in different fields," says Corley, CIO at engineering firm SEA Consultants Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

He's not the only one who has felt the pinch of a tightening labor market.

Noah A. Broadwater, vice president of information systems at nonprofit Sesame Workshop in New York, says he recently lost a few of his workers to higher-paying jobs at for-profit companies.

And Clint Wood, an application systems manager for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, has lost a half-dozen staffers from his 27-member group in the past year. He says it takes longer to find qualified applicants; he had to repost one .Net developer position a few times before getting any desirable candidates.

In Computerworld's first quarterly online Vital Signs poll of 300 IT leaders, many respondents reported that it's tougher to bring in the right IT talent today than it was just a year ago. Moreover, some said they're seeing a bigger turnover in existing staffs this year, too. As a result, they're adjusting their employment strategies, reconsidering hiring criteria and compensation packages, and contemplating the use of more outsourced talent (read more survey results about the use of outsourcers).

"Rewind to this time last year: It was a lot easier to get resumes in, and we had a lot more qualified candidates coming in for interviews," says Mark Christopulos, an IT portfolio manager at AAA of Northern California in San Francisco. "Now we're in the situation where we're doing trade-offs: We need to get someone in now, so which one do we take? Before, we were really excited about bringing the people in."

The ongoing economic uptick is clearly at work, Christopulos says. "We're noticing a lot of people who were available a year ago are now employed," he says, adding that workers' perceptions of the tighter labor market affect retention as well. "We're starting to see turnover a little bit higher than it was previously. It's not a problem, but it is noticeable. Last year, people just didn't move on. There weren't a whole lot of people changing jobs."

Noah A. Broadwater, vice president of information systems at Sesame Workshop

Noah A. Broadwater, vice president of information systems at Sesame Workshop

Image Credit: Peter MurphyIn the Vital Signs survey, 41% of IT leaders reported that it's more difficult to recruit key IT talent this year than it was last year. And 24% said their IT staff turnover rate is higher now than it was in 2005.

Stephanie Moore, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., says such responses might indicate that employers need an attitude adjustment. They were so spoiled during the years immediately following the dot-com bust, she says, that they haven't realized that the labor market is now more balanced between employer and worker.

"There was such a plethora of candidates available four years ago," Moore says. "They were used to it being an employer's market." Still, the situation has some executives re-examining their employment policies to focus on what's working and what's not. Some say they're beginning to feel pressure to raise salaries as a way to recruit the right talent.

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