The labour market is dominated by two conflicting stories. First, how will we get 12 million people back to work? The second (and least understood) concerns the battle many companies are waging to recruit tech talent. More than a third of IT employers have open positions they currently can’t fill, according to a recent CareerBuilder/ Sologig.com study. In the long-term, we’ll need more college grads and professionals to choose engineering and computer science fields. There is a silver lining to the current tech talent crunch: Competition breeds innovation, even in the talent acquisition space.
If a tech position sits unfilled for months, it’s the job of the CTO to ask, “What else can we be doing to make our company a destination for top talent?” Clearly, competitive compensation plays a huge role, but successful recruiting goes beyond being able to outspend the competitor. Fortunately, we can learn from leading companies who are creatively navigating the tight labour market in information technology. Simply put, four key strategies they use are:
- Hack It
- Pool It
- Prove It
- Train it
1. Hack It. Companies invest in technology to deliver customer value faster than their competitors, and nothing tests the bounds of possibility better than a “hackathon” – competitions that fuel immediate improvements and solutions. Developers want to work for companies where they can create new code and have an immediate impact.
Facebook made hacking famous, but tech companies have been using internal hack competitions to attract and retain talent for years. Yelp spotlights its hack day on its “Careers” page, as does CareerBuilder on its YouTube channel. ESPN promoted its hackathon on Front Row – the company’s behind the scenes blog – and had a documentary crew follow around teams of developers challenged to create new products in 36 hours. Allstate’s weekend hackathon saw 42 teams of developers compete to create the best mobile app; eight teams won cash prizes and the company moved forward with the winning app.
There are other opportunities to identify potential talent through Hackathons. Sponsor competitions at universities or in your backyard (check MeetUp). Yahoo and Facebook sponsor university hackathons. Also, ask your developers what competitions they’re passionate about or suggest some related to your initiatives in mobile, APIs, or their personal interests. For example, Code for America invites developers to generate web-based solutions for city governments across the country. These are opportunities for your developers to expand their networks for future referrals and to elevate their skills.
2. Pool It. The shortage of tech talent means most recruiters are forced to look beyond their own backyards. Consider Milwaukee, WI, which will have to replace more than 5,700 tech workers about to retire in the next five years. That’s on top of any new tech positions sure to be created. This is a challenge for several reasons: the pipeline of talent coming from local schools just isn’t there; fewer Americans are willing to relocate in a still-sluggish housing market; and Milwaukee, although home to many large companies and corporate offices, is not a Silicon Valley-type destination for tech workers.
So how can companies outside of the Bay area compete? One answer is for local governments, associations, and companies to pool their resources. The majority of employers compete individually for talent, with little budget to make the impact needed to build a reputation as an employer of choice. It’s a financial stretch for many small or mid-sized companies to fund recruiting campaigns to fill just two or three open positions. Instead, take a page from Austin, TX. The Austin Technology Council is starting a program where a group of eight companies will each pay a reasonable sum to hire a contract recruiter to tour major universities, represent the companies, and develop a list of 100 top prospects. From there, the companies will pursue the candidates individually. Rent a bus and set up a “Tech Tour of Milwaukee” and invite students from campuses in surrounding areas.
Otherwise, expect that talent to board a bus headed for Silicon Valley.
Also, companies can do a better job working together to sell their market as a desirable place to start or grow a career. New York City recently launched MappedinNY, an interactive job map that visually maps 500 digital startups, investors and co-working spaces. There’s obviously only one New York, but it’s an idea that can be replicated in virtually any market.
3. Prove it. Never underestimate the power of culture. In a June 2011 MIT survey, engineering graduates reported the top three factors influencing their interest in a job were 1) creative and challenging work, 2) fit with the culture/environment, and 3) opportunity to make an impact. Developing a clear answer to “What’s in it for me?” can mitigate a candidate’s desire for the top salary, if you’re not paying above market. There’s really no bounds to what companies are doing – e.g. dog friendly offices, free haircuts, and even lessons from venture capitalists on how to create one’s own startup.
Every company says that it has a great culture. You have to prove it. Using video on your career site, YouTube, and social media channels is essential and affordable. Twitter depicts its office culture with a clever satire of a traditional recruiting video. Zappos has a blog devoted solely to the inner-workings of its famed office culture and values. Zynga reminds us that these videos don’t have to be flashy, just authentic. What’s more, employers frequently forget these details in their job listings on CareerBuilder and Sologig, but there are few better places to get a prospect excited before they click “apply.”
4. Train it. A lot of recruiters post jobs for requiring the hottest IT skills like java, mobile, ruby on rails, php) and wait . . . and then wait a little while longer. If you’re taking 4-6 months to hire a web developer – one of the hottest jobs in the country – consider a different option. Try retraining an existing non-tech employee or hire and train someone unemployed for the in-demand skill set. When I suggest this to companies, I often hear the objection “but I need someone experienced now.” Yet if the sorely needed position hasn’t been filled, why not consider the parallel path? Fortunately, 38 per cent of employers in a recent CareerBuilder survey say that this year they’ll be hiring and training workers who don’t have prior experience in their particular industry.
If you don’t have the training infrastructure to make this happen, there are several options. Codecademy, Google Code University, and Udacity all offer free training and resources in the computer sciences. Code School – used by NASA, IBM and AT&T, among others – is a premium service offering courses in the most in demand development languages today. Check your community colleges for programs like Oakton Community College’s Programming and Database Design — many are offering these courses and can be partners to help you retrain employees or be new candidate sources.
The message of all this, regardless of your tactics: If you want the best innovators, you’d better get innovative in how you approach recruiting them.
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