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Three Strategies to Develop a Loyal IT Workforce

Posted by Tom Melander

Recruit, engage and retain top IT talent in a culture of career development.

News Flash: the era of the 30-years-with-one-company-employee ended sometime in the 1980’s. It just got too expensive to reward a lifetime of employee loyalty with a lifetime of prosperity and security. When the incentives changed, so did employee behavior. Restructuring, re-engineering, right-sizing—whatever you call it—has trained all but the slowest IT workers to keep one eye scanning the horizon for the next opportunity.

IT career ladders have also fallen into disrepair. It used to be that a worker could start out “on the ground floor” and start climbing. But today it’s considered a “best practice” to co-source your IT workforce, meaning that Level 1 & 2 positions are outsourced to save labor costs, while Level 3 & 4 positions are kept in-house to retain “critical knowledge”.  With relatively few local workers getting the experience to fulfill Level 3 & 4 positions, the competition to recruit these skills has raised the cost and eroded the loyalty of the entire talent pool.

Rather than lamenting the lack of employee loyalty consider these three strategies for creating a culture of career development that keeps IT talent feeling secure, engaged and focused on your organization.

1.     Foster both personal and professional growth.

We talk a lot about the need for IT workers to develop so-called soft-skills. We want them to be better communicators and we want them to understand the core business.  To develop broader thinking and better communication skills, offer your IT employees a range of small, but meaningful, non-technical assignments that increase their knowledge of your company and industry. Let them be your eyes and ears by creating a blog or monthly report briefing you and your department on things like competitors in the news, regulatory changes, or new applications of technology.

Also, there is no greater satisfaction than sharing your knowledge and helping another succeed. One way to engage the desire to help another is to ask your best technical talent to take on an apprentice. An organization like CompTia’s Creating IT Futures Foundation can help you create an apprentice position tailored to your company’s talent needs.

2.     Help your IT staff keep up their technical skills and certifications up to date.

IT workers have legitimate fears about their skills becoming obsolete. Enable workers to learn new technologies, even if they are working on legacy systems. Assure workers that when the time comes to implement a new system they won’t be cast aside like a used disk drive. A training provider such as Benchmark Learning can help you create a long-term, just-in-time training program that can keep your team’s skills fresh and up to future challenges.  Knowing the company has a plan for their development will lower worker anxiety and help keep both eyes focused your company and the opportunities it has to offer.

 

3. Encourage community engagement outside of work.

Employees who take on service roles outside of work can bring back new energy and competencies to their work. Understanding of the nature of the work your employees are willing to do for free brings insight into their true strengths and potential. Use this information to engage their untapped potential at work.

Your employee community connections can also help you recruit high quality talent. Asking employees who they would recruit and why from their community organizations will help you create a private talent pool to draw from when the need arises. Empowering your employees to offer the occasional informational interview and workplace tour can create a sense of belonging and pride. Ask your employees to help develop a guide that showcases the benefits and opportunities they see to working for your department. This will not only help gain potential recruits, but also help your employees see their workplace with new sense of appreciation.

 

Loyalty and the new culture of career development

Now, if your saying to yourself, none of this will get a single line of code written, consider the alternative: managing a talent pool that considers job hopping a not just a sport, but a necessity to stay employed. Our recent recession and massive job losses cut across all sectors and demonstrates that no-one’s job is entirely secure. 30 years of service means little to a worker holding a pink slip. Even IT workers who thought they had high demand skills spent months on unemployment.

To retain top talent without the promise of job security, IT managers need to respond to employee concerns that if the doors close tomorrow, they will be well equipped to land a new position. By creating a culture of career development you can reassure your best workers that staying put is the best career move they can make.

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