Tackling the skills shortage, Gen-i style

The company has many strategies to recruit and retain staff, its GM says

When it comes to hiring, many ICT firms are working within an HR framework that was designed for an era when there were fewer jobs than today.

That was one point made by Gen-i general manager Chris Quin during a presentation at the Tuanz ICT Skills Shortage conference in Auckland last week.

The HR framework was set up on the presumption that many prospective employees would be competing for jobs, Quin noted, but now it’s the other way around, with employers competing for staff. Therefore, a different approach to hiring and retaining staff is needed, and that’s what Gen-i has been working on, he said.

For example, it is using targeted recruitment methods that include preferred supplier relationships with recruitment firms, in addition to its in-house hiring capability.

One feature of the in-house hiring strategy is a staff referral rewards programme, in which staff who help recruit new employees through word-of-mouth recommendations are rewarded financially for helping hire them.

Gen-i is aggressively recruiting overseas, and has had a stand at the UK Job Expo for the past two years. For this year’s fair, it flew over two British hires it made last year, so they could tell their story to prospective Gen-i employees at the fair.

“We had 125 interviews at this year’s fair,” Quin said.

Looking within itself is a big part of Gen-i’s recruitment strategy, and 40-50% of placements are internal promotions.

Contractors are a valuable source of skills, but they must be assigned to the right areas, Quin said.

“Contractors are important when you have a variable workload and short-term projects,” he said. “You don’t need to invest in training them, because they’re already trained and that’s reflected in what they charge.”

Gen-i doesn’t place contractors in management or leadership positions, and there are other rules in place to ensure the roles of contractors and fulltime employees are kept separate.

Of Gen-i’s 1700 staff, 500 are in sales and the company has an in-house sales academy. When staff graduate from the academy, they get pay rises.

Technical staff are looked after through a community of practice, a group which discusses technology. It’s a means of engaging staff beyond just doing their job, Quin said.

A graduate recruitment programme has been part of Gen-i’s hiring strategy for some time, and the annual intake of 10-20 graduates are moved around every six months in their first two years. All graduates do a stint at Gen-i’s retail stores, dealing with the public.

The moving around is aimed at keeping Generation Y employees engaged by giving them variety, Quin said.

Gen-i also works with its partners on helping staff get internationally-recognised vendor certifications, he said.

Using its own in-house ICT capability to increase productivity so as to reduce the need for staff to do routine tasks is another aspect of Gen-i’s plan for tackling the skills shortage, and using capability from overseas partners for services that can’t be provided from New Zealand is part of that strategy, Quin said.

Gen-i has invested heavily in management training in the past year and it’s paid off in the form of reduced churn rates.

“People don’t leave organisations, they leave managements — they’ll stay if the management’s good,” Quin said.

Attracting and retaining Generation Y-aged staff means allowing them to use Web 2.0 technology and to work from home, Quin said.

While New Zealand’s overall unemployment rate is around 3.6%, the unemployment rate for ICT feels like -2 or -3%, he said.

“At any time, Gen-i has 50-60 roles vacant.”

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Tags managementgen-iskills shortage

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