How one manager deals with dwindling IT talent pool

James Kritcher ponders how to hire employees as demand for IT services soars.

IT managers face increasing pressure to keep operations running while being strapped for cash and short on staff. As the baby boom generation begins to retire, many IT managers anticipate losing veteran workers. Add to that the fact that fewer computer science and information systems graduates are entering the workforce. James Kritcher, vice president of IT at White Electronic Designs in the US, shared his thoughts on dealing with staff in the face of an inevitable talent shortage.

Do you worry about being able to get the right level of IT talent in-house?

Absolutely -- for particular high-demand positions such as ERP specialists and senior network engineers. Our ability to execute our strategic plan while remaining within budget is largely dependent upon having adequate staffing and skill sets in-house.

Has finding the right technology skill sets to meet the business needs become a bigger concern in recent years?

Yes. Like many fields, IT demand is cyclical. Around the time of the dot-com crash, IT demand began to slacken, recruiting calls dried up and many IT workers were staying put. Over the past couple of years, demand seems to have increased sharply -- particularly for hot skill sets such as IT audit, ERP and workflow. The increased demand, along with a pent-up desire by some workers to move on, has resulted in a more challenging recruiting and retention environment.

What measures do you take to attract top talent?

In addition to paying a decent salary, I focus on selling the company story, and IT's critical role in executing our business strategy. We emphasize our company culture and upcoming projects, which provide interesting work and exposure to new technologies. We also try to hire only the very best personnel we can for each position, resulting in a high-performing team that one can be proud to be a part of. We try to create 'employment branding' where we become the company of choice for candidates.

Do you work with candidates to make coming to your company easier?

If the position is at our data center in Phoenix, we leverage the area's lifestyle, economy and climate when recruiting candidates from other areas of the country. We can also be flexible when it comes to relocation. I'm currently recruiting a person from the northwestern U.S. area for a technical ERP position, and we've agreed to allow him to work remotely for a few months so his children can complete the current school semester and he can have more time to sell his home. This type of flexibility -- when possible -- gives us a clear advantage in recruiting highly sought after candidates.

How do you work to retain IT workers?

We try to offer everyone interesting work and stretch goals. We also try to be generous when it comes to training opportunities. Most IT people like to know that their work is contributing to the success of the business and they like to be recognized for that contribution. We try to actively market IT projects and acknowledge each person's contribution toward the company's success.

We try to be flexible when it comes to working hours, allowing staff to work from home when a child is sick, for instance. It seems that the distinction between personal time and work time has evolved into just 'time.' With notebooks, smart phones and wireless access, we are somewhat always connected to the business. So if one of my people wants to take an afternoon off to run errands or play golf, we don't have a problem with that because we know that they were at the data center last weekend working on a particular issue.

Have you accommodated an employee who wanted to relocate geographically?

I have a senior ERP staffer who was thinking about leaving our company because he and his wife wanted to live in the northwest U.S. area. Because he was so valuable to our company, we worked out an agreement that will let him work out of our Oregon facility.

What advice would you give others on retaining IT employees?

A while back I read a book by Libby Sartain, who has served as head of human resources at Southwest Airlines and Yahoo. One thing that always sticks with me from that book is the concept of treating everyone fairly, but not necessarily equally. In other words, reward high performers with additional flexibility and perks. When a team rallies and gives discretionary effort to accomplish a goal, we reward that effort. At the same time, we work to assure that we don't have to constantly be in 'super hero' mode, which results in burnout.

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