The ICT talent war

Recruitment firm says IT should focus on resources

The ICT battlefield has shifted from a war for talent to a war for resources; and you better be prepared. ICT recruitment firm Best International managing director John McVicker says the solution is three fold; create a workplace that encourages IT-skilled people to work for longer, make the IT industry more attractive to generation Y and skilled workers from other industries by offering greater flexibility, and capitalize on overseas talent.

A little about yourself; what industry experience do you have, what are you currently involved in and what are your main interests in IT?

I am the founder and managing director of ICT recruitment firm Best International, established in 2002, which partners with many ICT industry leaders including eight of Australia's largest companies and four of the world's biggest organisations in their industry sector.

My career in the recruitment industry began in the late 1980s; however, it was during the mid 1990s that I was drawn to the IT and telecommunications industries, which is where I focused my core recruitment and management skills. I worked alongside some of the world's most distinguished recruiters including holding two senior management positions for Australian and New Zealand ICT employment companies. During this period I established the "Best Practice Methodology", which is a client-focused and industry-led approach to ICT recruitment that has both significantly raised organizations' expectations of client-focused solutions and has immeasurably changed the way recruitment is done in some of Australia's leading companies.

Do you agree with the notion of an IT graduate/staff shortage?

I believe that the war for talent [analyst firm] McKinsey talked about seven years ago in its famous report has passed and it is now a war for resources. The Australian Bureau of Statistics projected demographics for Australia indicating a declining workforce. In the year 2000, 170,000 entered the Australian workforce; this will drop to 138,000 by 2010 and to only 50,000 by 2020.

Generation X's choice of careers over kids and Australia's growing economy is to blame for creating the skills shortage. This will apply to a large proportion of the skilled roles required in Australia including IT.

We have already seen a huge uplift in demand through research done for our monthly best IT talent index, which provides ongoing, detailed information about ICT labour demands. And the labour shortage will increase as we head towards full employment.

What forces are causing the problem? What can be done about it?

The key to coping with a decline in the working population is three fold. First, we have to persuade IT skilled and knowledgeable people to work for longer; I am not necessarily advocating extending the retirement age, but individuals will be more inclined to stay if we provide opportunity for them to remain in the industry.

The second, and perhaps most critical initiative, is to make the IT industry a more attractive place to work by offering greater flexibility to generation Y, who are very focused on their own careers and opportunities. Although the barriers to entry into the IT industry are set quite high due to a huge graduate demand, it is the quality of the person as opposed to academic knowledge or skills that is the key to early career success. Skills can be taught to people who have the right aptitude and attitude which is something organizations often don't recognize and they consequently miss out on opportunity. Because organizational success comes from cross training people from other industries, and hiring younger people who have a positive attitude to work, government should make incentives for organizations to offering training for new employees.

The third initiative is to capitalize on overseas talent. I am keen to see a lot more flexibility in hiring overseas workers, not as guest workers on work visas but as genuine migrants to Australia. There are a number of things that could be done in concert with federal government initiatives that would encourage the cream of international talent, in the form of permanent migrants, to move to Australia and contribute to our economy and long-term economic prosperity. We lose so much good talent overseas; for example currently about 1 million university-trained individuals are working overseas - I'd like to see them attracted back.

What are the challenges faced by recruitment firms?

The challenges faced by recruitment firms today are oriented around two key areas; to provide a complete solution to sourcing resources, rather than just advertising, sifting, and database searching, and to adopt recruitment processes that assist clients in retaining their workforce.

What makes you different from other IT recruitment firms?

Our screening methodology delivers one of the highest long-term retention rates of any IT recruitment agency by utilizing multi-channel talent sourcing strategies. We are also the only IT recruitment company to offer a lifetime guarantee with all assignments.

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