Today’s tight labour market calls for better attitude from bosses

The employer-friendly environment of the post-dotcom bust era has been replaced by an employee's market in the United States

When Bill Corley, CIO AT engineering firm SEA Consultants, sought to hire an entry-level helpdesk worker four years ago, he received 500 responses from highly qualified candidates within two days of posting an ad on Monster.com.

When he posted the same job a few months ago, he had only 40 responses after a week.

“People who were unemployed four years ago are now either reabsorbed or are in different fields,” says Corley, who isn’t the only employer who has felt the pinch of a tightening labour market in the US.

For example, Noah Broadwater, vice president of information systems at the non-profit Sesame Workshop, says he recently lost a few of his workers to higher-paying jobs at for-profit firms.

In Computerworld US’ first quarterly online Vital Signs poll of 300 IT leaders, many respondents reported that it’s tougher to find the right IT talent today than it was just a year ago.

Moreover, some say they’re seeing a bigger turnover in existing staff this year. As a result, they’re adjusting their employment strategies, reconsidering hiring criteria and compensation packages, and contemplating the use of more outsourced talent.

Stephanie Moore, an analyst at Forrester Research, says such responses might indicate that employers need an attitude adjustment. They were so spoiled during the years immediately following the dotcom bust, she says, that they haven’t realised that the labour market is now more balanced between employer and worker.

Still, the situation has some executives re-examining their employment policies to focus on what’s working and what’s not. Some say they’re beginning to feel pressure to raise salaries as a way to recruit the right talent.

Sesame Workshop’s Broadwater says that as the market tightens, a certain amount of attrition is nearly inevitable. “We can’t compete, being a non-profit, with the for-profit organisations in terms of salaries,” he says.

However, he says his organisation offers perks that help compensate for salary shortcomings. Sesame Workshop has a comprehensive benefits package, including tuition reimbursement, as well as a good work environment without a lot of stress where people work well together and receive on-going training, he says. In addition, the organisation produces a product — Sesame Street — that people believe in.

Others, however, say they’re having more trouble finding people with some of the newer skill sets.

Eileen D Heveron, associate vice president of IT at the National University in San Diego, says workers with experience in both PeopleSoft programming and higher education are the hardest to hire and retain, followed by workers with web development skills.

“They’re in demand, and there’s just not enough of them,” she says.

And for Jon Elsasser, senior vice president and CIO at roller bearings manufacturer The Timken Company, people with storage systems knowledge are the toughest to find and keep. He says companies that have been forced to improve their document-retention policies by recent US regulations, are requiring such skills.

Indeed, data management and business analytics were among the top five technologies that Vital Signs survey respondents said they consider most critical to their companies today. Data security, disaster recovery, anti-virus protection and servers also landed in the top five.

As competition for key skills heats up, some CIOs are rethinking employment policies. Timken’s Elsasser says the company is starting to let people work from home.

Moreover, although Elsasser has used outsourcing, he says he’s looking at whether “structural outsourcing” — outsourcing certain skills for the long term — makes sense, especially if he has a hard time finding people with particular skills.

Broadwater says experience has taught him that using in-house talent is best value. “We found that people fully invested in the company — who believe in it and are here full-time — stay longer and provide better customer service,” he says.

That kind of thinking may change, however, as IT leaders are challenged to implement new technologies and processes aimed at driving business results.

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