Help Wanted (And How)

IT staff shortages are proving laborious for all concerned.

The labor shortage has prompted one staffing firm, Knowledge Workers Inc., to shift its focus from recruiting services to retention. “Replacing an employee can cost up to two-and-a-half times that employee’s salary,” says Bill Sebra, president and CEO of the Englewood, Colorado-based firm, which promises to replace at no additional cost any employee it places if that employee leaves within two years. “Companies may understand how important it is to find an employee who ‘fits,’ but in their rush to fill positions, they often overpay and hire people with the right skills but the wrong profile.”

But companies do seem willing to devote more attention to people once they hire them. “If there is a silver lining to the IT labor shortage,” says Schafer of Meta Group, “it is that companies are once again trying to treat employees right. They understand that you have to make the most of the people you have.”

Contracting Supply

A bigger challenge may be making the most of the people you don’t have. The market for contract workers is booming, and companies have a growing number of ways in which to tap into this labor pool. New Web-based services such as SkillsVillage and Vivant Corp., in Oakland, California, take some novel approaches to linking employer and employee. SkillsVillage, for example, not only offers an online exchange that matches parties by skill sets, but also enables a client to create a private network of staffing firms and independent contractors.

Given that some large companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on contractors, providing a better way to obtain and manage these services seems like a solid niche. “Companies are tending to manage large-scale IT projects as if they were movies,” says Chris Wong, president and CEO of SkillsVillage. “You hire a director, actors, a cinematographer, and so on, and then disband them when the proj-ect is done.” While there are economic benefits to hiring contract workers (such as reductions in health-care and pension costs, and the compliance and paperwork issues posed by full-time workers), a study by the American Management Association found that flexibility in staffing issues and the ability to find specialized talent are the primary drivers.

If you want the work but not the worker, a company called HotDispatch Inc. has the answer–literally. Its global bulletin board service allows IT workers to post requests for help and then pay a nominal fee for the solution, which could be an answer or actual code. “Even the most talented employees run into situations where they need help,” says Mike Kaul, CEO of HotDispatch. “No one can keep abreast of all the technology that’s out there.” Kaul says a programmer can simply post a query to HotDispatch and ask for guidance. In doing so, they reach the broadest possible talent pool.

Anuj Seth, for example, has responded to many such queries from his home in Bangalore, India. A full-time programmer for an Indian firm, he makes extra money by responding to calls for help on HotDispatch. “Getting paid is just a bonus,” he says. “It’s really about helping someone when you know the answer. You know you’re saving them a lot of time.”

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