Slowing the revolving door { with IT workers }

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The shortage of computer programers and information technology (IT) workers has brought employers to their knees, as today’s IT workers have almost unprecedented clout as they move from job to job in search of ever greener pastures.
“If a typical IT person is making $50,000, and, all things being equal, if they can go somewhere and make $60,000, they will go to that place and make more,” says Bob White, president of Impact Solutions, which recruits IT workers.
“In this job environment, people have many opportunities,” adds Marlene Haigh, a Racine human resource specialist. “There is always someone out there trying to attract your people away.”
Back when employers were calling the shots, White met with companies and determined their needs, and then came up with people to fill those positions. Not anymore. Now White tries to find workers with exceptional skills, determines what they are looking for, and then finds a home for them.
“It’s become a candidate-driven market instead of a company-driven market,” White says.
According to a recent survey by RHI Consulting in Milwaukee, average annual turnover within a typical IT department is 19%, with many companies reporting annual attrition rates of 25% or more.
White says IT employers must move to streamline their hiring processes, as most good candidates are lost because a company didn’t move fast enough.
“When you take somebody in this field who is good or exceptional, their shelf life might only be two weeks,” White says. “I talked to one guy in the morning, and three phone calls later, he was hired that afternoon. When someone is willing to make a change, employers have to move very quickly to hire that person.”
In another case, one company made an offer five minutes before a competitor made an equal offer. The first company got the employee. Small to mid-sized companies can use their size and flexibility to their advantage, White says, as they can generally move faster to hire an IT candidate.
They want to be challenged
By the time an existing employer comes back with a counteroffer to an IT employee who has received a job offer, it’s almost always too little, too late, White says. More often than not, the reason the IT worker is leaving is because he was not satisfied with the projects he was working on, or he was not kept up to date with new technologies because the company was not willing to spend money on it.
Troy Wyss left Fiserv, Inc., to work for M&I Data Services two years ago after 17 years with the Brookfield financial services data processing company. The 38-year-old started with Fiserv in 1980 as a programer, and was fortunate in that he was always able to move into new areas when he would become bored with a particular technology. But when he was moved into a new position in 1996 that examined new technologies, it broadened his horizons.
When Wyss felt Fiserv was not moving fast enough on investing in technologies for alternate platforms, he left for a job with M&I.
“I didn’t feel that they were going to move on things immediately, and then I heard of another job where they were already using the technology I was exploring,” Wyss recalls.
But after five months with M&I, Wyss was offered more money to return to his old employer, along with the ability to pursue the leading-edge technologies he had thought the company was dragging its feet to get.
“I am much more comfortable than when I left that I made the right decision,” Wyss says of his return to Fiserv. “In my field, the ability or the opportunity to work on leading-edge technologies is essential to motivation and retention.”
The unfortunate reality is, most employers tend to look at technology expenditures from a bottom-line standpoint, White says. When they fail to make a capital expenditure for cost reasons, they risk losing dissatisfied IT workers down the road.
“It becomes more a matter of being more in tune with the employee’s needs, what would make them happy as far as providing them with the tools to get the job done,” White says.
“The whole thing that is driving this is, if they are in a situation where they don’t like their manager or the technology they work with, they can change [jobs] relatively quickly assuming they are a good employee and have good skills,” White adds.
After he paid for the education and technical training of an employee, Rick Schmaelzle of PrismaGraphics Inc. saw the employee leave shortly thereafter for greener pastures.
“If I had to do it again, I’d probably be less generous,” says the president of the specialty printer at 24th and Clybourn in Milwaukee. “I’m not down on training people, but there are just too few people in that business. Loyalty is questionable. We make the investment, and then they find out that they have some skills that are very marketable.”
Be flexible
Deluxe Electronic Payment Systems in Glendale is retaining more of its 1,200-employee workforce by being more flexible and listening to what its information systems workers are saying in terms of their individual needs, says vice president of human resources Jill Zoromski. Today’s technology workers are just as interested in quality of life concerns as they are making more money, she maintains.
“When people come to me and say ‘I can get 30% more from a consulting firm, with benefits,’ we’ve been winning that with the quality of life argument,” Zoromski says. “In Wisconsin, we have a very family-oriented community, and I think people like being here and not traveling all of the time.
“There’s an extreme amount of flexibility here,” Zoromski adds. “Instead of having a one-size-fits-all approach, we have done a good job of listening to what people need in terms of flexible starting times, changing career paths, or being exposed to new company initiatives. A lot of it has to do with communication. It’s a matter of having your managers talk to their people.”
That type of approach has helped stem turnover at Deluxe, which also has operations in located in New Berlin. In April 1997, Deluxe had 44 people leave the company. One year later, in April of 1998, eight people left. In March of 1997, 43 people left the company compared to eight people who left in March of 1998.
“To say IS people don’t have any loyalty, who do you think started that?” Zoromski asks. “It was stuff like corporate downsizing at the drop of a hat. And, you’re not going to win the battle where the company says ‘Have my values.’ It is really difficult to change somebody’s values, but it is much more achievable to ask somebody what they want, and then deliver on that.”

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