What Do You Need to Build a 21st Century IT Workforce? The Experts Weigh in at ChannelCon

Managing talentAll you have to do to grow your IT business is hire the best and the brightest people. It's a common phrase in the channel, but the one part of the equation those experts usually ignore is the "how." As in how can you find quality recruits and properly train them? And how do you retain employees after investing the time and money preparing them for the job?    

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to those questions. But several HR experts gave it a good shot in a panel discussion at ChannelCon. Moderator Kendra Angier, Vice President of Human Resources at Ingram Micro, kicked off the session by reviewing several somewhat eye-opening statistics, including, "57% of employees leave in the first 12 months. And the cost to replace a skilled worker is upwards of 150% of their annual salary."

Those two points emphasize why employee recruitment is such a crucial process for IT firms. Today's owners must know what skills are truly needed to support their clients and successfully grow their businesses. And the ramifications of doing it wrong can be costly. For example, when job descriptions are too broad or include unnecessary educational and certification requirements, prospects' salary expectations will rise. Of greater concern is making someone who might be the perfect fit for an open position not feel qualified ‒ and he or she fails to pursue it. Business rarely, if ever, learn of those lost opportunities.

"Research shows that women will not apply for jobs they are confident they will not get," says Charles Eaton, CEO of Creating IT Futures and EVP of Social Innovation at CompTIA. "Guys may see a 10% fit in a job description and apply anyway. Be sure to clarify your requirements and don't ask for more than you really need."

What other workforce-related trends should IT firms be watching? Angier noted that "37% of tech workers would take a 10% pay cut to work from home if offered the option." Remote workplaces may not work for many companies, but managers should be open to the possibility and consider how it could impact their recruitment and retention goals.

Another trend is the increasing number of firms recruiting and rehiring former employees, otherwise known as the boomerang workforce. "Many companies realize they can have people come back again and again now," says Jill Chapman, Senior Performance Consultant at Insperity. "A ‘no' right now may not mean ‘no' forever. You can build a network and community of talent today, so you're able to pull people in at the right time." Those who don't burn bridges on their way out might be the firm's best option in the future.    

Expand Your Talent Pool
IT services providers do a lot of things well, but their HR recruitment processes often fall far behind their business owners in other industries. With technology at the heart of virtually every organization today, the competition for quality IT talent continues to grow. That means channel firms have to step it up to attract and retain the best workers.  

Panelists Kimi Hirotsu Ziemski, Founder and CEO of KSP Partnership suggests giving breaks to those with less experience, particularly those interested in learning and contributing. Attitude can be worth more than a lengthy resume. "What is the long-term value to your firm when you get to shape their talents? Those prospects not handicapped by old habits, who will bring something new to the company. The best advice I can offer is to not fall for preconceived opinions."

Technical talent is a limited resource experiencing greater demand every year. That's a major reason why IT firms are struggling to balance their personnel budgets with their expansion needs. They need to have the right people ready to go at the right time to prevent issues with their cash flow and ensure their clients get the proper level of support.

Eaton's suggestion is to cast a wider net and leverage industry training programs to fill open positions.  "We have to change where the talent comes from to fill the gap. Our IT Ready program helps unemployed and underemployed people enhance their soft skills and find IT-related jobs. We work with small IT providers as well as larger MSPs and tech companies, and 95% of our students get hired into permanent jobs."

Channel professionals also need to do a better job selling prospective employees on careers in IT. Technology can be a scary proposition to those with no knowledge of the industry or the opportunities. The common preconception that IT services businesses are boring or complicated, or both, may prevent sales, marketing, and other job seekers from pursuing open positions.

Imagine working 9-5 in a cube spouting "speeds and feeds" to prospects. That's not a realistic environment for channel professionals, and educating the potential talent pool to dispel that notion is everyone's responsibility.          

How? Hirotsu Ziemski suggests telling prospects about the differences the channel makes in many peoples' lives. "Our jobs are not about technology. We change the world every day. Sometimes we forget and think we're technologists, but we need to be clear in how we define our level of expectations."

Passion sells, especially when you're recruiting new employees.