Look after staff or pay the price

The steady stream of encouraging news on the jobs and pay front shows that the long-awaited recovery in the IT industry is a lot...

The steady stream of encouraging news on the jobs and pay front shows that the long-awaited recovery in the IT industry is a lot more than wishful thinking.

As the turnaround gathers pace, IT directors and their staff will need to think long and hard about the future both of their IT operations and of their own careers. For some time now there has been a sense of stasis in terms of staffing, with many individuals feeling the lack of career opportunities and many useful projects kept on the back burner.

Now the upturn in project activity is being reflected in higher salaries on offer from employers seeking to fill vacancies. The latest SSL/Computer Weekly Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends shows significantly higher salaries being offered for many groups of IT professionals, although for IT directors the pay picture remains the same.

The changes represent both challenges and opportunities for IT directors. The upward pull of salaries could put budgets under greater pressure, and essential staff who may be feeling, perhaps mistakenly, undervalued and understimulated could start getting itchy feet.

As Margaret Smith, IT director of Legal & General and one of the judges for our Best Places to Work in IT awards, points out on page 27, there is likely to be a big rise in staff turnover as the recovery strengthens, and she identifies a crucial shift in social mores which adds to the instability of the workforce - the growing trend of younger people to set off on lengthy world travels at short notice. Against this background, IT directors will find that it is increasingly hard to win the loyalty of expert staff, but Smith gives some pointers on how to generate it.

It is important to remember, however, that although staff stability is desirable in helping to keep operations running smoothly, avoiding management being preoccupied by recruitment and training issues and assisting effective planning, it can all too easily slip into staff stagnation.

That can be reflected in poorly motivated staff and a certain amount of dead wood among the headcount. At some time or other most IT directors will have felt an inner sense of relief, while outwardly expressing regret, as an underperforming, or even troublesome, member of staff hands in their resignation.

Movement on jobs and pay will offer a chance to revitalise operations across the UK IT industry. Let's make the most of it.

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