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Strategies to Attract, Hire and Retain Top Tech Talent

From data center managers, to website administrators to content managers, top concern in the IT sector is finding and hiring tech talent. It’s not difficult to see why. With the exception of the Dot-com Boom, the tech industry has reliably been a net-job creator. More recently, the tsunami of applications stemming from disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and blockchain are creating positions at a rapid-fire pace -- positions which require some elite skills.

If we’re going to have more qualified workers, more students need to acquire in-demand skills that fall under the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curricula. Considering the wealth of opportunities offered by these positions, it seems like employers should have no issue filling new tech openings. After all, a Pew Research survey has found that college graduates who hold a STEM degree earn more than those who pursued other college majors, regardless of whether they actually work in a STEM field.

However, in spite of the many efforts to attract and persuade students to enter these fields, some students just aren’t biting. For example, in the same survey, Pew found that only a third of workers (33%) ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree have an undergraduate degree in a STEM field. And about half of those who pursued a STEM degree aren’t actually working in a STEM field.

The research predicts that this shortage of tech talent is only going to grow if companies don’t improve their strategies for attracting and retaining talented IT employees:

  • Korn Ferry has found that the labor-skills shortage in the tech sector is expected to reach 4.3 million workers by 2030.

  • The fourth annual STEM survey by Emerson in 2018 found that the manufacturing sector alone was predicted to need about 3.5 million jobs by 2025.

  • Harris Allied has found that as many as 50% of hiring managers say that "keeping the teams they have in place" and "staying competitive with regard to salary and bonuses” are not as pressing concerns as simply finding qualified and competitive employees in the first place.

What Do Tech Workers Look for in a Potential Employer?

Just like sales, employment is about supply and demand – and the STEM sector is out of equilibrium. Forbes conducted a survey titled “What People Want” that determined technology professionals are mostly unsatisfied with their current roles. Earning this satisfaction won’t come just from offering bigger paychecks or fancier titles. IT professionals overall reported the following:

  • 72% would take a pay cut for their ideal job.

  • 75% would take a step down in seniority for their ideal job.

  • 45% are satisfied with their current role.

  • 78% would consider leaving their current role.

In a separate survey, the LaSalle Network found that the three top reasons that IT professionals seek greener pastures are better benefits, a possible career change and a lack of a clear career path. LaSalle Network also found that tech workers prioritize compensation, work-life balance and benefits – in that order – above other factors.

What Can Employers Do?

Many experts – from the worlds of tech, human resources and economics – have written about what employers need to do to attract and retain the best tech talent. Overall, the most common recommendations can be grouped into four buckets -- compensation, work/life balance, career development and workplace culture.

Competitive Compensation

At the end of the day, we all work for one reason – to make money. It’s not hard to understand why compensation is important (for any employee). But when it comes to tech professionals, it’s a bit more complicated. Especially in our super-charged economy, tech professionals can often name their price. This means your organization should be ready to negotiate, even with current employees who might not be satisfied with their existing position. And even if you’re not able to offer a bump in pay, additional benefits, vacation days and bonuses can all be strong additions to a worker’s compensation package. 

Work/Life Balance

If your team isn’t quite able to offer top dollar to new recruits, don’t despair. You might be able to offer some other incentives. Working from home is a staple at many tech companies, large and small. If your organization hasn’t explored the idea of allowing your team members to work from home – at least part of the time – you’re potentially missing out on (or flat-out losing) some talented professionals who know that it isn’t difficult to find that opportunity elsewhere. The same can be said for flexible schedules, and many of today’s professionals feel that such considerations are an essential sign of trust and respect between them and their employer.

Career Development

Dice found that in 2018, 73 percent of employers used “motivators” to retain talent, and one of the most effective methods was offering certifications to employers to enhance their professional development. Dice wrote, ”47 percent of tech professionals have a certification, and among those who don’t, roughly a third either blamed time constraints or an employer unwilling to pay for them. This makes certifications a strong contender when it comes to attracting technical talent.”
Yet in practice, Dice unfortunately found that only 3% of participating tech organizations reported offering this perk to their team members. Considering the rapidly evolving nature of the latest and greatest technologies, professional development opportunities that offer a clear career path and allow workers to progress their skill sets might just be what your company needs to keep its top talent.

Workplace Culture

While efforts to improve the work/life balance of your employees largely stem from how you can support them outside of work, workplace culture instead focuses on supporting your employees inside your organization. The Ford Foundation and Kapor Center for Social Impact released a report about tech employees who leave their job, and reported somewhat jarring results:

  • 37% of all respondents cited mistreatment or unfairness as the main reason for resigning from a tech job.

  • Not surprisingly, women in tech are two times as likely to quit as men, while Latino and black employees are 3.5 times as likely to quit as their white or Asian colleagues.

  • 64% of LGBTQ employees cited workplace bullying for their decision to leave a job

  • 1 in 10 women working in tech reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention at work.

The evidence is clear here. Talented professionals neither desire nor need to stay at a job where they don’t feel as though they belong or are respected. It might require a deep, and perhaps uncomfortable, look at the culture that pervades your team, but making sure everyone feels valued and safe in their workplace is a company’s biggest responsibility.

A Worker-First Mindset 

If you want to employ the best in the business, you’ll have to approach the problem from more than one angle. Employees are people, and people are multi-faceted. There’s no single magic solution that will enable you to hit your recruitment numbers immediately. 

This means you should think big, and you should act aggressively. Above all, you should prioritize the needs of your workforce. Your employees are the life of your company, and they will pour in hours of time and effort for you. Keep that in mind when you’re considering how to go about recruiting and retaining them. Remember that your competitors are doing the same.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

As we all vie for the best talent, we need to be thinking collectively to address the challenges facing the tech sector. We will only reach our full potential if we come together to address these issues as an industry. Fortunately, many organizations exist solely to attract and train more tech workers to the industry. New academic programs are popping up all over the United States to offer tools for improving STEM education, and not just at the baccalaureate level:

  • The Maricopa County Community College District in Arizona recently announced a collaboration with Amazon Web Services to create a certificate program which will enable tens of thousands of students to pursue tech careers in the cloud computing industry.

  • Responding to market demand, countless websites, including Lynda.com and Udemy now offer digital courses (for free or otherwise affordable costs) in all types of programming languages.

  • Many universities and allied organizations have invested many, many dollars in efforts to recruit more students from under-represented communities in the tech world, such as women, ethnic minorities, and first-generation college students, who might not otherwise find avenue into the STEM world. 

Not only are these organizations working for the benefit of improving your workforce, they also produce a wealth of helpful research. If your organization is in need of guidance about workforce recruitment, retention, or development, check out work from organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, Vets Who Code and the STEM Advocacy Institute. 

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