Global Recession an opportunity for IT organisations to skill up?

High skills at low prices, or a distraction to keeping your existing internal talent?

As the global financial crisis continues to bite and staff are laid off, the question of whether the recession presents an opportunity for organisations to pick up some highly skilled workers at fire-sale prices has emerged.

“There a lot of good IT people on the market at the moment so you could cherry pick and get good people at a very competitive rate – as they can’t be too fussy in the current market,” John Duckett, CIO at law firm DLA Phillips Fox said.

However, while organisations had the potential to reap benefits in the short term, longer term issues around staff loyalty and the longevity of skills are likely to arise, Duckett said.

“Within a year or so when conditions improve, those people who are competent and attract higher salaries you are likely to lose,” he said. “Do you want to get rid of people who have been fairly loyal to you, but are perhaps under-performers, just to get someone because they are out there and offer temporary good value?”

Agreeing that the current job market presented a lot of available talent, Alan Davies, CIO at logistics firm Dematic, said his focus was fixed internally on keeping talent within his organisation.

“I’m concentrating more on keeping the talent here and not getting out onto the market,” he said. “I’m trying to add more value to the business and justify why heads shouldn’t be cut.”

He said an additional challenge to attracting and keeping skills was that many organisation's redundancy programs did not discriminate between skilled and unskilled workers.

“There isn’t the discrimination there when it comes to your good people versus your less performing people these days,” he said. “Redundancies do often cut the high end people. You’d have to get rid of a lot of help desk people to make up for one senior network person.”

Furthermore, given the prevalence of global hiring freezes, when organisations did find quality talent at low prices, they were likely to be unable to procure it, he said.

John McInerney, CIO at Telstra, said regardless of the recession, the key to attracting and maintaining skilled staff was to provide work which was challenging and stimulating.

“Good staff always move to where the work is,” he said, “IT staff are the most attentive at making sure that what they are working on is the most interesting to them – not just from skills perspective but an industry perspective. Pay is important, but in tough times good staff will always find jobs, and they’ll find jobs that are interesting.”

McInerney said a side-benefit of Telstra’s massive IT transformation over the past four years was that it had managed to attract, hang on to, and develop a cohesive IT team.

“Part of the investment we have made has been in software and infrastructure but also in people,” he said. “Man for man I believe it’s one of the most talented IT teams going around.”

According to Peter Acheson, COO at IT executive recruiter Peoplebank, local CIOs also needed to think about their own skills and safeguard against the potential for their organisations to bring in highly-skilled, experienced CIOs from overseas.

“There’s no doubt that the marketplace we are in at the moment is a buyer’s market, so the opportunity for Australian companies to attract good international executives – CIOs – have skills that are above and beyond what you might find in the Australian market is very real,” he said.

“The ability to attract them into a country like Australia for a 2-5 year contract will be very attractive and you can probably get them for a rate that is far more acceptable than what you would have seen two years ago.”

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