8 new weapons to fight the talent wars in '08

The recent uptick in skirmishes over IT talent may indicate that a full-scale war is heating up for '08. If so, the weapons this time will be different from those used in the last big dust-ups of the dot-com era. "We are seeing a war for talent, and it's been building up for the past three years," says Dan Reynolds, CEO of The Brokers Group LLC, a Princeton, N.J.-based IT staffing firm.

The current demand for IT talent is being driven by a number of factors, including investments in new projects, a dramatic reduction in the number of IT grads from U.S. colleges and the first of the baby boomer retirements, he says. Whatever the causes, experts note that savvy CIOs, recruiters, headhunters and other hiring managers are trying out new or updated weapons to fight for IT talent. Here are eight that you may want to wield in the coming year.

1. Social Networks. Although recruiters and hiring managers continue to use job sites such as Monster.com and Yahoo HotJobs to advertise for open positions, the use of social networking sites such as LinkedIn is providing employers with "a better quality pool of applicants," says William Gomes, director of human resources at Intermedia Inc., a New York-based provider of hosted business e-mail services.

By using social networks to identify potential employees, Intermedia is "getting a better ratio of qualified applicants" than it would from the throngs of resumes it might otherwise receive from job sites that don't hit the mark, says Gomes.

2. Wikis, Blogs and Forums. Companies are increasingly turning to online communication tools to help engage potential IT employees and generate discussions with prospective new hires. The tools also help to "harmonize" values between employers and would-be employees, says JP Rangaswami, a managing director at BT Group PLC in London. BT Group has at least 70 bloggers, including Rangaswami, who says the company has found that, thanks to the blogs, IT workers "come to us because they've heard of us more and they know what we're doing," he says.

3. Trying Before Buying. Instead of posting job ads in newspapers or through online jobs services, employers are increasingly turning to other recruitment techniques, such as right-to-hire agreements. In these, an employer hires a professional contracting firm to do the recruiting for it. The employer agrees to hire qualified candidates for a few months with the option of offering them full-time employment later. "I've done this a few times with programmer/analysts," says Joe Trentacosta, CIO at Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative in Hughesville, Md. The lure of health care and other benefits for permanent workers "plays a key role" in tipping the scales, he says.

4. Global Thinking. "Those who believe the search for [IT] talent is limited to the U.S. are badly mistaken," says Bob Worrall, CIO at Sun Microsystems Inc. Smart companies think beyond national borders. For example, roughly half of Intermedia's 170-plus IT professionals work in its St. Petersburg, Russia, offices, says Gomes, and the company also finds employees in India and other non-U.S. locations.

5. The Anywhere Workplace. The concept of going to the office certainly hasn't disappeared altogether, but the "where" and "when" of IT work are undergoing some fundamental changes. "It used to be that you 'went' to work everyday, coded away and then went home," says Worrall.

But today's twentysomethings expect to be able "to connect to work from a laptop on a train or at the beach," he says. And employers are more apt to accommodate them -- to a degree.

"We provide [IT] staff with flexible work hours and laptops, BlackBerries and other devices to help them do their jobs remotely," says M. Lewis Temares, vice president and CIO at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. "But we still need them to be on campus at various times to support the university's services."

6. Business Vision. "The tenor of the job announcement has changed," says Robert Rosen, immediate past president of Share, a Chicago-based IBM users group, and CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in Bethesda, Md. "There's much less emphasis on technical skills and more demand for people who can help add value to the business." Of course, IT hiring managers remain hungry for people with strong technical abilities, particularly hot development skills such as .Net, PHP and J2EE expertise. But it's even tougher to find IT professionals with business savvy or experience managing relationships with business units, says Craig Urrizola, CIO at Saladino's Inc., a Fresno, Calif.-based food distributor.

7. Pumped Up Paychecks. OK, this one isn't new. But as part of the whole supply-and-demand continuum, it's an old weapon that's back.

With fewer qualified IT professionals available, particularly in hot markets such as Silicon Valley, companies are doling out bigger offers. For example, Intermedia's offers to new employees in the San Francisco Bay Area are 20% higher than they were a year ago, says Gomes.

8. Imagination. Compensation continues to be the biggest factor in the recruitment and retention of IT professionals, but perks such as the option of telecommuting, flexible work hours and opportunities to work for socially-conscious organizations are top-of-mind for many younger IT workers. And sometimes an imaginative approach can make the difference between snagging top talent and losing it to the big bucks.

For instance, IT professionals who work at the National Aquarium in Baltimore typically earn 15% to 30% less than peers who work elsewhere in the city, says Hans Keller, chief technology officer at the aquarium. But he tries to offset that with other perks. One of his network engineers spent two weeks on a research trip on the Amazon River last January. Other perks are closer to home. "I have two people on my staff who dive into the tanks and feed stingrays every other month," Keller says. "That's not a typical assignment for a systems developer."


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon