Find, keep and grow IT talent

IT specialists with well-rounded expertise in emerging technologies are vital to any business. How do you get recruitment right?

Finding, recruiting, and retaining IT talent are areas of human resources (HR) that hold plenty of scope for fresh thinking as new tools and processes emerge.

Technologies including social media, knowledge management, business intelligence (BI) and analytics and human resources information systems (HRIS) are now mature enough for IT departments to use for spotting and growing skilled IT personnel.

According to a recent UK Commission for Employment & Skills report, four emerging technologies will drive future demand for talent: cyber security, mobile technology, cloud computing and green IT.

The report’s findings show that employers still require IT specialists to have a core base of technical competencies, but to break into new technologies; technical expertise needs to become more rounded, with multiple specialisms needed. Consequently, there is a greater emphasis than ever on getting recruitment right.

Andrew Horne is managing director at business advisory firm CEB, whose members include McDonald’s, Thomson Reuters and UBS. He says: “The people you want to hire often have good jobs and are ‘passive candidates’. You need to find ways of identifying them and contacting them. We are seeing a variety of experimentation among our members in this area.”

Which it skills are in demand?

Traditional .Net and Java skills coupled with open source technologies such as PHP, Python, Grails and Ruby on Rails. Big data-related engineers, with strong academic, algorithmic development experience, and technical skills including Matlab, Hadoop, Mongo, NoSQL and MongoDB – Richard Norris, director of ReThink Recruitment.

Social media and digital marketing have been positions in demand over the last year, as well as the usual back-end and PHP developers - Louisa Harrison-Walker, director of Benchmark Recruit

Specialists in Java and Micrososft .Net, SQL and BI tools - Neil Turvin, CEO of software development firm Godel Technologies Europe.

Demand for BI/analytics, mobile, planning and performance management and newer technologies such as SAP Hana. Shortage in CRM and BI/analytics – Frances George, head of recruitment at Bluefin Solutions.

Complex data management, niche Java skills, Red Hat Linux - Prithvi Shergill, chief human resources officer at HCL Technologies.

He notes that IT is no different from other departments in that the sorts of qualities that attract technology specialists are the same as for sales and marketing or HR candidates, and IT should be able to use the same tactics as those in other fields.

“These include trying to cultivate relationships with people you want to recruit and having recruiters and headhunters gently get involved – using social media or your employees’ own networks, and using referrals and incentive schemes for internal employees,” Horne suggests.

However, there is also the technology angle. Horne says businesses are attracting IT specialists by offering high-quality development opportunities, showcasing innovative technologies and brands, and using social media to get the word out.

The social network

Social media has been an important tool for Hampshire-based digital agency Advantec Internet Services, according to its managing director, Andrew Brittain. “Social media has been the biggest change for us in the past few years and we can now use LinkedIn and even  Twitter to locate and make contact with potential candidates,” he says.

“Even if we’re not actively trying to fill a vacancy, we’ll try to connect with local potential candidates and start developing a relationship with them via social media so we have a pool of individuals to speak with as and when their – and our – recruitment situations change.”
Advantec is a small business, with 15 staff in total, but it recruited five of those last year through social media, and is planning to expand with another five this year.

The company put together a package of benefits to tempt technical workers, which include a matched funding scheme to help staff save for a house deposit. Other benefits include flexi-time, free days off for birthdays and private healthcare.
IT recruitment consultant Louisa Harrison Walker, director of Benchmark Recruit, says LinkedIn is essential for her work: “Often in IT, the best people are in work because they have specialist skills. Many do not have CVs on job boards, so using social media and sites like LinkedIn are integral for getting to those passive candidates,” she says.

“Undoubtedly, the use of social-networking tools has made the task of identifying individuals with the right technical skills easier: LinkedIn is a great tool,” says top recruiter Vicky Maxwell Davies, founding co-partner at Boyden UK, and head of the CIO practice. “But we still have to sort the wheat from the chaff and test and examine the ‘softer’ competencies with the same rigour as we always did.”

She says the recruitment firm’s services are in as much demand as ever by clients who seek the highest-calibre IT professionals to fill key positions.

“Benchmarking candidates against the rest of the market and using our decades of experience to make those judgements on behalf of our clients still comes down to our deep understanding of not only what the good looks like, but how it smells and sounds,” she says.

“And of course, once we have identified the best candidates, they still have to be persuaded away from their current positions. Our ability to identify with their aspirations and match these with what our client has to offer is needed even more nowadays. Particularly as the best candidates are inundated with more calls than they ever were before – due to their online visibility,” says Maxwell Davies.

Graduate recruitment

Using social media and recruitment firms are two popular options for IT departments looking to find and recruit talent. But there are other options, says Frances George, head of recruitment at Bluefin Solutions, a global SAP management consultancy.

The firm’s dedicated in-house recruitment team uses LinkedIn to map the market and identify potential candidates – particularly ones with BI/analytics, mobile, and planning and performance management skills.

But it also has a successful referral programme and a wide network, drawn from personal connections, says George. He adds: “On occasion, we do use recruitment partners to top up our network and candidate pipeline. Also, due to the shortage of skilled candidates, we have invested heavily in our own graduate programme, which has been running for the past six years. Our latest class of inductees start next week.”

IT services company Kainos, which has been in business for 26 years, has also found graduate programmes to be fruitful ways of finding future talent. The company’s application development recruitment initiatives have been particularly useful.

These include hackathons, and campus-based CodeCamps, which attract 16-19 year olds and give them exposure to IT, and its flagship AppCamp, a summer camp where students build, design and launch apps on the AppStore.

Paul Hamill, head of HR at IT services company Kainos, explains that AppCamp includes two weeks of intensive iOS development training, with a free MacBook and iPod touch for delegates. This is followed by more formal training over the rest of the summer for a smaller group of promising students, which the company eventually recruits. Then they receive mentoring from a technologist, training in business skills, and a career path with Kainos, with continual development from a career coach, typically someone who has been in their shoes.

“We set the bar high. They get training and development, and we get exposure to the brightest and the best, and loyal employees who stay with us over the years,” says Hamill.

Retaining highly skilled IT workers is an area where most companies still have room for improvement, says CEB’s Andrew Horne. He thinks mining social media, and using talent management tools such as Cornerstone OnDemand, Workday or SAP SuccessFactors can be helpful.

“One problem with BI is that employers aren’t good at using the data it produces. The technology is getting more powerful but the problem is getting worse and people aren’t keeping up. You have to be careful about interpreting the data; either people are too sceptical about data, or they follow it blindly,” he says.

“To retain talent, CIOs need to work more closely with HR to make sure there is an emphasis on future direction in the organisation,” concludes Horne. In other words, the old ways are the best.

This was last published in October 2013

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