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How to Attract and Retain Quality IT Help

Allen Bernard Freelance writer
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

For IT and the tech sector, a silver lining of COVID-19 may be the work-from-anywhere trend it kicked into high gear. Today, two-thirds of US firms are adopting work-from-anywhere employment strategies to offset the scarcity of talent in their local markets, according to Forrester's "Adopt an Anywhere-Work Strategy to Compete in the Future Tech Labor Market" report.

Because of the dearth of in-demand skill sets such as cybersecurity and cloud, the unusually high tech-worker attrition rate, and the ability for many tech jobs to be done remotely, IT is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this trend to find the help it so desperately needs.

"Companies are realizing that the mobility has always been there; we just haven't allowed anyone to tap into it," said Christopher Gilchrist, the report's co-author and a Forrester analyst. "[With] a good computer [and] an Internet connection, I'm going to work where I can rather than where I have to."

According to Pew Research, more people (61%) are working from home because they want to, not because of COVID-19 or the fact their workplace is still closed. Gilchrist suggests that companies need to embrace this reality.

"The pandemic forced us to stop making excuses," he said. "We don't have enough peopleand the people we need, everyone's going after them for the same reasons. But there's not enough of them to go around."

Citing the May Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report, Forrester said there are two jobs available for everyone in the market. In other words, it's a buyer's market. Unlike in days past, organizations are no longer able to dictate when, where, and how their new hires will do their jobs. And while lower-skilled workers are also in short supply, according to Deloitte Insights the demand for highly skilled workers is growingeven as seven out of 10 employers globally struggle to find workers that have "the right mix of technical skills and human capabilities."

"Bottom line: Companies that refuse to acknowledge this shift of power to the worker will assume a larger share of the risk and receive little of the reward," reads the Forrester report.

EX More Important than Ever

Employees today are looking for more than just a paycheck, Gilchrist said. They want work experiences that are fulfilling and that lead to an improved sense of self and accomplishment. They also want to feel that the work they are doing makes a difference and that they are valued. Forrester's research shows that employee experience (EX) can be the deciding factor in an organization's ability to attract the talent it needs.

In a Harvard Business Review article, tech executives Brad Anderson and Seth Patton seemed to reach the same conclusion, pointing to US Department of Labor statistics showing that a record-high number of workers quit in November 2021.

"[Workers] are now searching for the right job at the right company with no rush to go back," wrote Anderson and Patton. "Contrast this against more than 10 million job openings, and it's clear that companies need to place more emphasis on culture and employee experience."

Traditional Markets Slowing Down

Due to quality-of-life issues and high costs of living, the traditional tech hubs of San Francisco, New York, and Boston are all seeing population slowdowns, the report said. People are moving to places where their dollar has more buying power and the quality of life is better. Texas, North Carolina, and Florida are all destinations now, the report said.

"The idea of … only focusing on very few calculated areas to go pull talent from is just not going to work for the majority of companies," said Gilchrist.

Instead, Gilchrist recommends that employers focus on building ecosystems and networks that attract employees to them regardless of locale, similar to what the big tech companies did in the 1990s and early 2000s.

One of the ways to build such an ecosystem is to set up events such as hackathons in partnership with a university, local business-startup communities, business incubators, community-development organizations, and the like to build a presence in an area you are targeting for recruitment.

"That just opens the floodgates in terms of how talent can come to you and how you can expose yourself to talent," Gilchrist said. "For companies that do not have the deep pockets of the major tech firms, this is a good thing. They can find high-quality talent in locations that when, compared to the traditional East and West Coast tech hubs, are more reasonably priced for everyday living."

Indeed, employees in those smaller markets typically do not command the same salary premiums as those higher-cost-of-living markets, even though their talents are still in high demand.

The ability to develop innovative relationships with potential employees also creates a lasting advantage over companies that continue to conduct transactional point-in-time exchanges through traditional channels such as recruiters, staff-augmentation firms, jobs boards, and HR. According to the Forrester report, the ecosystem strategy creates regional brand recognition that can lead to potential employees seeking out the firm as an employer of choice.

"Therefore, focus on employee development and engagement initiatives that can help set the organization apart from the competition by creating more opportunities for talent to perceive the opportunity as differentiating," the report advised.

Use Technology as an Equalizer

Many companies today are exploring a broad range of technologies to help their work-from-anywhere workforces stay connected and productive, Gilchrist said. The good news is that younger workers are perfectly happy communicating digitally. Even when employees sit right next to each other, they may prefer to talk to one another using apps like Slack.

But fielding the right mix of technologies to keep your employees productive should extend beyond just collaboration suites, videoconferencing apps, whiteboards, and online project-management tools.

The technologies Gilchrist recommends are not substitutes for what a human can do but complementary and additive. Automation, for example, shouldn't simply be about removing redundancies but rather empowering the organization to do more with the same number of people.

Technologies such as employee self-service for HR, robotic process automation (RPA), AI-powered chatbots, low-code software-development platforms, and training technologies that offer real-time guidance as new employees navigate new applications for the first time can all make remote EX easier to navigate and more rewarding.

"When you think about technology, it's all around, How do you support the labor that you have?" said Gilchrist, "rather than simply focusing on how [to] drive savings to the bottom line."

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