Help Wanted (And How)

IT staff shortages are proving laborious for all concerned.

That’s true even at companies that would seem to hold the greatest allure for IT workers: Internet start-ups with cutting-edge technologies and plenty of stock options. Jerrold Grochow, chief technology officer at Foliofn Inc., an online brokerage firm in Vienna, Virginia, says, “When we find good people, we hire them. We don’t even worry about what specific job they’ll do; there’s no doubt we’ll have a place for them.” The company plans to double its IT staff during the second half of this year, and says it needs people in all areas of technology.

“Too many companies operate like the NFL,” remarks the ITAA’s Miller. “They let colleges develop the talent, then recruit the best. They should follow a baseball model, creating farm teams and developing people themselves.” That’s precisely what IBM and other companies now do. Internships have been expanded and made more lavish, with the emphasis moving away from supplying a cheap source of grunt work and toward romancing future full-timers. “It’s ‘try-before-you-buy,’” says Chris Bahr, program director of developerWorks and alphaWorks, IBM’s free developer portals that offer code, tools, and tutorials. “It’s a brutal market, and you have to grow your own talent.”

“We rely on a referral program, recruiters, you name it,” Foliofn’s Grochow says. “We have to fight to find good people, just like everyone else.”

But the nature of the fight may be changing, and in a way that benefits most companies. Stock options, the carrot that has given dot-coms a big recruiting advantage over established companies, have lost considerable luster following the Nasdaq correction and the demise of several high-profile E-tailers. Suddenly, blue-chip firms look like safe havens, not stodgy dead-ends.

Companies must still cater to the demands of IT workers, which can range from the mundane (“Even though we’re a pretty buttoned-down corporate culture, we let our technology people wear whatever they want,” says UPS Capital CFO Michael Bryant) to the critical. Appl says hpshopping.com’s mentoring program has been an important selling point because “people in technology fields always want to learn, and to feel like they have a career path.” Many companies promise to rotate IT people through various jobs to alleviate even the impression of being slotted into a potentially stultifying niche.

Attention to Retention

That’s part of a broader effort to improve retention, which most companies consider as important as recruitment, if not more so. A best-practices study conducted earlier this year by the American Productivity and Quality Center on behalf of AT&T, Chase Manhattan, UPS, and several other large private and government employers found that retention boils down to four key areas: providing professional development and defined career paths, orienting and assimilating new hires so that they feel like part of the organization from the outset, recognizing and rewarding employee contributions, and offering a solid compensation and benefits package (versus new cars, on-site masseurs, and other headline-grabbing perks).

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