The strength of the economy and corresponding tightness of the labor market were big stories in 2018, and this was doubtlessly a boon for some highly skilled tech pros. But less available tech talent searching for work put those businesses that needed additional skilled staff in a difficult spot. As CompTIA’s 2019 Industry Outlook report points out, stiff competition, the need to find techs with the right hard and soft skills, increased salary demands and a tough time finding talent in the right locale were all factors with which tech-hiring businesses had to tangle in 2018.
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There are strategies that companies – from small solution providers to startups to large enterprises –can utilize to clear these hurdles of today’s tech economy and keep their employee rosters flush with tech talent that can do the job well.
Russ Hensley, CEO of Hensley/Elam, has for more than two decades been providing clients in the Lexington, Kentucky, area with a range of cybersecure solutions. As the IT needs of businesses have evolved, Hensley/Elam’s offerings and expertise have evolved right along with it. Now, with a staff of 25, the solution provider offers a high-touch, highly consultative IT experience to clients in areas like banking and accounting.
Meanwhile, New York City-based digital transformation expert Joshua Rockoff has worked with retailers and startups to help them take the big leap into today’s tech-enhanced business landscape and thrive there.
While these two experts work in different segments of the tech world and are located in different geographical locations, the advice and observations they offered matched up in some noteworthy ways, providing surefire tips on how companies throughout the tech world and IT channel can attract, cultivate and keep the top-tier talent talent they need.
Solve the Soft Skills Dilemma with Training
In the verticals where Hensley/Elam’s clients operate there’s a high demand for regulatory compliance with regard to how technology is deployed, secured and used. And there’s a lot of cutting-edge technology that companies are looking for. With clients always expanding – for instance, opening new bank branches or implementing new technology like interactive teller machines (ITMs) – Hensley/Elam engineers are on the scene bi-weekly if not even more frequently to assess needs and discuss options. So, the techs need to know how to talk to people, which can be tough for those whose professional focus has been strictly screen-facing. Hensley has found, though, that training can markedly improve a tech’s interpersonal skills.
Hensley’s method involves a personality assessment at the time of the job interview and then an ongoing plan using training resources to get a new tech hire up to speed in terms of being professionally personable. Hiring for hard skills, then using training and teamwork to build soft skills, is a method he’s seen demonstrate results.
“We’ll try to take someone who may not have soft skills and bring them into the help-desk environment first before we turn them into a field engineer,” Hensley said. “They work with the team and bring up their maturity levels or other skill-sets that they need to have to be able to go into the field.”
Make a Position Attractive Beyond Just Pay
Rockoff notes that regardless of the size or vertical of a business, few are going to be able to compete on salary with companies like Google, Facebook or Apple – for obvious reasons. So how can startups and others keep top talent from getting pulled into the gravity of the Silicon Valley giants?
“Work-life balance is big,” Rockoff said. “The ability to be a remote worker is big. Upward mobility is a massive one.”
And it’s a specific type of movement up in a company that Rockoff has seen as being most effective in drawing and retaining today’s tech employees: They don’t just want a promotion, they want a challenge.
“A problem with a lot of tech workers today is they get pigeonholed,” Rockoff said. “When I’m hiring tech talent into in the enterprises I work on I’m saying, ‘You have a primary responsibility but we also want to give you secondary and tertiary responsibilities, which you may not have as much familiarity with, but these things that will help you with your career.’ Where we can mentor them, where we can offer them exciting opportunities but also give them the opportunity to learn, we’re selling our experience – not just simply a job.”
With tech workers increasingly looking at jobs as places for skills expansion, Hensley has likewise seen offering career development resources – and covering the cost – as a way to compete.
“A question [job seekers] ask now in the interviews is they want to know what certs we pay for,” Hensley said. “People know we pay for certs, we pay for tests and training materials people in the community know that we invest. But we expect them to pass, too.”
Always Be On The Lookout
Once businesses could count on good techs responding to a job posting. But with more options available and fewer techs out there looking, this isn’t always the case.
“The number one problem we have is knowing where the talent is,” Rockoff said.
Visiting tech meetup groups in NYC, where people are there as a part of a community exploring their personal interests, is one place where Rockoff has had great success even though such events are not specifically job-oriented.
“They’re not naturally going into it thinking they’re going to be on a job interview and that’s not their intention,” Rockoff said. “I’ve found the best places are the ones where people are not necessarily directly looking at [finding a job] as their direct focus. They’re looking at it with a secondary or tertiary focus.”
Hensley has been successful with similar strategies in Lexington. Hensley and his techs can frequently be found at “geek night” events at the local tech incubator building and they keep in close touch with the tech companies on the third floor of the building in which Hensley/Elam is headquartered. They visit and speak at local college events as well. A commitment to being a visible part of the local tech community, and building professional relationships and even friendships with engaged, enthusiastic local techs, can lead to a perfect match when a need arises. And as Hensley said, in today’s tech job market, the time to start looking for a new employee isn’t when the old one vacates the position.
“You’ve got to be constantly looking and have the relationship built with the guy three or six months before you need him,” Hensley said.
Tech Talent Might Be Right Under Your Nose
Going out into the local tech community is critical, but sometimes the best source to point businesses in the direction of potential IT hires is right there in the IT department already. Internal referrals are a powerful tool for attracting reliable, skilled talent. It’s a business’ responsibility, then, to make their workplace an attractive place to work.
“So much is referral no w that you have to make your environment attractive to the referrer,” Rockoff said. “You have to give them an incentive.” He advised telling current IT employees referrals allow them to bring friends into the company and makes themselves more visible.
Think Data and Cybersecurity for 2019 and Beyond
These strategies for bringing on, cultivating and keeping the right kind of skilled, reliable tech talent are being honed and proven in a tight job market. But these emerging best practices would seem to have value no matter what the labor market looks like – in a year or a decade. As for the technological needs on the horizon, these experts see some definite developments and suggest that to really thrive in 2019 and beyond, tech companies would be wise to keep them in mind. Rockoff notes that businesses will likely be looking for more data-related positions as areas like AI and machine learning continue to take off.
For solution providers, bridging the gap between what clients want and what up-and-coming IT talent is interested in offering is crucial. In 2019 and moving forward, that means cybersecurity.
“I think companies that offer cybersecurity services are going to be the most attractive and then everybody else has to figure out how to build that cybersecurity toolbox,” Hensley said.
Interested in gleaning more insights from the IT Industry Outlook 2019 report? Click here to read on and download it today!Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.