IT staff recruitment and retention continue to be a challenge for Canadian businesses, according to a study commissioned by the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC).

The report by researcher Ken Rifkin, entitled Recruiting, Retaining

and Developing IT Staff: Challenges and Strategies, looked at the issues facing IT managers in organizations of all sizes. His primary finding: The processes of attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining IT staff are highly interrelated, and accomplishing these tasks relies heavily on the IT manager’s human resource management skills and management style. Firms, therefore, must invest in delivering human resource management expertise to IT managers.

This is even more important when you consider morale among IT employees has gone straight down the toilet, according to a recent study by Meta Group. Almost three-quarters of the 650 IT executives surveyed said that it was an issue among their companies’ tech workers. One disturbing finding was that employees do not believe that companies are focused on retaining them.

Retention expectation – or lack thereof – also emerged as an issue in Rifkin’s report. It said, “Loyalty on the part of both employees and employers is no longer a reasonable expectation. On the contrary, employees with value in the labour market are expected to leave within a few years of employment, and firms are expected to dismiss any employee at anytime.”

Some CIOs don’t subscribe to this philosophy, however, and credit their company culture with helping to retain employees in all areas.

Akhil Bhandari, vice-president, IT and CIO of contract manufacturer CCL Industries in Toronto, says his organization has had very little turnover during his tenure. Yet he insists he does nothing special for IT. However, he says, the company is forward-looking in terms of benefits, working environment, diversity in the workplace and respect for the individual, and this contributes to the stability of his workforce.

His current environment differs from that of a former employer where, he says, being part of a conglomerate of several companies with different styles meant that he did have to make adjustments to keep staff. IT for this group was a shared service business unit with its own profit and loss reporting.

“I had the opportunity to tailor the benefits and create a different culture from the rest of the conglomerate,” he notes.

That culture was based in large part on professional development. In addition to normal benefits, the company offered educational assistance, paying for tuition, books and exams for staffers looking to achieve IT certification or to complete university degrees. For each educational milestone, employees got an immediate raise, over and above those generated by normal annual reviews. A Microsoft MCSE certification was worth $2,000, for example, while a graduate degree earned a $5,000 raise.

“It motivated people,” he says. “They saw education and learning as a benefit. It makes employee skills and experience more portable, and if I make them portable, I become more attractive to them.”

At A&W Food Services of Canada, manager of information systems Jim Williams also believes in training and education as a key to retaining staff. But, he says, it’s more important to hire people who fit into the company culture.

“The type of person that fits into our culture likes to work with people. With people skills, you either have it or you don’t,” he noted. “In IT it’s tougher. You get people who say ‘I’m a great technologist. Put me in a room and let me work.’ I have never been able to transform a technologist. It’s easier to train (a people person) in the technology.”

Unlike most of those in the SHRC study, who had little use for human resources input (criticisms included lack of knowledge of IT, being an obstruction not a help, and patronizing attitudes from HR staff), Williams treats the hiring process as one conducted in partnership with HR. Once HR has done basic screening, the potential employee’s co-workers conduct a team interview to check the person’s fit within the group. “(HR) looks at the people side,” he said, “and the team looks at the technical side.”

He went on, “There are several things that keep people. They ask, ‘am I going to get recognized for what I do, is it a fun/interesting place to work?’ Somewhere down the list is compensation.”

“People stay because they like what they’re doing, they get recognition from the company and their peers, and they have the proper tools and technology and are allowed to do a bit of R&D. If they don’t have all that, it doesn’t matter how much you pay them – they won’t stay.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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