Finding (and Keeping) Scarce Tech Talent

By The Intersect Group

Trends in attracting and retaining the IT talent you need in this competitive market

Finding enough talented tech workers is not going to get easier anytime soon. The demand for talent with skills across a range of technologies including mobile app development, UX design, AI/robotics/machine learning, IOT, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and full-stack development – is only going to get more intense. Organizations that continuously assess and refine their candidate recruiting and retention strategies will have a significant advantage over those that do not.

No doubt, keeping up with the most effective approaches to attracting and retaining the best IT talent can be challenging. The techniques evolve almost as fast (or in some cases, faster) than the technologies new hires are intended to work with. Here are some of the most useful tips we can offer along with our insights on which are proving most effective.

Attracting top talent requires a number of techniques that complement and reinforce each other. There are many proven tactics for attracting talent; here are just a few of our observations and ideas:

  • Sourcing (finding enough good tech candidates) is a fast changing specialty that can outpace a hiring organization’s ability to keep up. Passive candidates, people now working and not actively job hunting, are highly sought after but frequently prove hard for companies to find and recruit. Knowing how to locate and capture the interest of passive candidates is a skill worth building.
  • Keep your compensation data current and pay competitive wages. If your salaries are below market averages, you’re going to have a tough time hiring (and retaining) good IT talent. Regardless of everything you might read about the importance of other factors in attracting talent – compensation is still number one. In recent studies almost two-thirds of respondents said that compensation/pay is very important to their job satisfaction. Trying to save money by paying lower than average wages is risky. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, on average organizations have to pay 6 to 9 months of an employee’s salary to replace them. Lose a few employees to higher pay and the money saved by paying a lower wage disappears.
  • Hone your employer brand. Your employer brand is not the same as your corporate brand but requires equal attention. The majority of job seekers will research your reputation as an employer before considering working for your organization. A positive employer brand can make you stand out of the crowd when candidates are comparing multiple offers. A negative employer brand can make hiring in this job market even tougher. If you use a staffing organization, they should become an extension of your brand. They should know and reflect your value proposition.
  • Solicit feedback from job candidates about your recruiting/offer processes. If there are areas that repeatedly receive criticism, take steps to improve the process.
  • Leverage your current employees. An employee referral program can be an effective method of finding talent that might otherwise go untapped. Organizations that don’t actively promote their referral programs are missing an opportunity.

Another tip is to keep your eye on emerging HR technology. For example, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), automating recurring and repetitive tasks, offers efficiency improvements across a range of recruiting activities. Onboarding tasks such as updating applicant tracking systems, gathering new employee data and documentation, creating a new payroll entry, even monitoring some aspects of compliance, can now be automated. Also, by embracing new technologies such as RPA you indicate to new employees that you are a dynamic, forward-looking organization – one that should be a more attractive place to work.

So how do you keep your top IT talent when everyone wants them?

If you’re not finding yourself struggling to retain your best IT talent congratulations, you’re doing something right. Although most companies don’t report their turnover rates (the percentage of employees leaving over a given period), estimates of turnover rates for IT workers are thought to be some of the highest of any job sector. One recent analysis found turnover for UX designers at over 23% and software engineers at nearly 22% (the worldwide average for all job types is around 11%).

Estimates of what it costs to replace a salaried employee vary but, as noted earlier, it could average between 6 to 9 months of the employee’s salary. Given how difficult it is to find IT specialists in some fields, the costs in lost productivity when one of those specialists leaves are high. The cost of turnover, not just in the costs of initial recruiting, training and lost productivity, but also in delayed product launches and the additional recruiting and training expenses to replace these employees, totals in the billions of dollars. Additionally, the negative affects to business continuity and the potential loss of intellectual property can have far-reaching consequences. It’s no wonder that employee retention is now garnering so much attention and investment.

As with recruiting, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood of keeping your best employees:

  • Retention starts with recruiting. Take the time to assess a candidate’s work history – especially their tenure at recent jobs. If they don’t stay anywhere long, don’t expect them to stay with you. Try to identify those job candidates who are more likely to commit to your organization.
  • If your salaries and benefits aren’t competitive, you’re not going to keep good people. In almost every survey of tech workers, compensation is the number one criteria in their selecting an employer. Any short-term savings you might realize by paying less than market salaries is going to be erased by the long-term cost of high turnover.
  • Offering continuing education and tailored training indicates your interest in nurturing your employees. For top talent, developing and sharing career growth opportunities can underscore your commitment to them.
  • Frequent communication and meaningful feedback with employees can help build a sense of solidarity. Too often employees feel their concerns go unheard. Open channels of communication can help resolve problems before it’s too late.
  • Analyze and apply the information from exit interviews. Often you’ll find common themes that if addressed can enhance employee retention.

One last point about employee retention too important to overlook is practices related to unfairness-based turnover. The Kapor Center for Social Impact and The Harris Poll recently released what they titled “The Tech Leavers Study”. Polling a representative sample size of 2,006 U.S. adults who left a tech job in the last three years, the study found that the number one driver of turnover was unfair treatment by their employer (37% of the sample). Unfairness was characterized by a workplace that tolerated bullying, harassment, promoting less qualified people, crediting employees for work others did, assigning work that was below workers’ capabilities, and generally poor leadership. Employers owe it to their employees and to themselves to create workplaces in which people know they will be treated fairly. Having a reputation as a fair, unbiased workplace will go a long way to helping you attract and retain good workers.

Want more ideas on how you can find and keep good tech talent?

Even the tech giants are struggling with retaining their IT talent. The median tenure at Google and Amazon is only about a year! That doesn’t mean you should be satisfied with similar results. Sometimes, taking a hard look at your recruiting and retention processes can lead to insights that can have far-reaching effects. We can help by evaluating your current processes and offering ideas based on our experience and knowledge of your job market(s).

(Sources: Kapor Center for Social Impact/Harris Poll, SHRM, LinkedIn, Payscale)