Managing Engineers

Tech Talent: What HR Needs to Know.

November 7, 2014

When you work in the technology sector, you soon realize that there is a constantly evolving marketplace for those skills you spent the last few years developing. But this also means those skills will quickly go out of date if you don’t keep them new, fresh, current and usable.

Many IT positions now highlight IT security capabilities or need mobile programming technologies like iOS or Android. HR departments didn’t look for these 10 years ago – but they’re commonplace today. This is a reflection of the speed of evolution in the sector.

As someone who spent the last decade working in the overlap between Technology, Human Resources, and Change, I’ve seen firsthand how the technology revolution has changed the way we acquire, manage and develop technology talent.

Tech Talent is Different than Traditional Talent.

Tech talent is fundamentally different than traditional talent. With a few well-timed training courses, leadership coaching, and mentoring, we have a clear talent pipeline for traditional skill workers. But technology skills are evolving so rapidly that the world was a different place even 5 or 10 years ago for the “techie”.

As recently as 2008, a Deloitte survey found little concern for talent management in the technology sector. Even with the impending generational bubble about to burst open the workforce as Baby Boomers exit in far greater numbers than millennials enter.

Could this be because of the perception that new technology enters the workplace with new younger recruits?

Is there an inbuilt disposition that makes it easier to manage technology-based talent through recruiting younger generations, just out of school with fresh ideas and new knowledge of the next big thing?

Maybe this is the case, but my challenge to you is to consider the demand versus supply equation – demand is increasing for technology talent and far outstripping supply in the job market.

The savvy HR department knows it has to convert existing talent into new technology proficient assets. A 2012 McKinsey report addresses the challenge of new technology talent head-on.

It’s not just about acquisition of the right talent, you must strengthen existing talent. Sometimes that comes from those in technology whose area of expertise is shrinking (read: those dealing in legacy systems and physical hardware networks) and working with these people to augment their skills for newer technologies gaining momentum. This is a challenge for both technology-focused companies and organizations with traditional IT departments.

Tech Talent: Hire or Grow Your Own?

So how does HR manage this situation? What is their involvement? What should they be doing? I have some personal thoughts on this, but first I’d like to reference the 2014 ComputerWorld IT Salary Survey which, aside from talking about employee expectations and compensation, states:

Some 63% of open IT jobs are highly skilled specialist positions … With demand outpacing supply for many positions, 54% of survey takers say a headhunter has contacted them in the past year.

What does this tell us?

That the jobs are specialized – a ratio of almost 2:1 – and over half of people in these positions are getting approached to take up new opportunities. In my view this is due to a false perception that it is easier for HR Recruiters to try and steal another’s talent than to grow your own. That may be a short term fix, but someone who has jumped ship once is more likely to do so again.

Technology talent may be transient, but it won’t create more talent for the pool if you keep moving the same people round and around. The challenge is to increase that talent pool and take the opportunity to develop internally in a complimentary alignment with external capability being introduced and integrated.

The Society for Human Resource Managers published a piece just this August that highlights the need for tech talent to be fostered from within. The following quote really captures my thoughts on this:

“Given the shortage of talent, companies must adopt a strategy of building tech talent from within,” said Steve Cadigan, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based talent strategies advisory firm Cadigan Talent Ventures LLC, in an interview with SHRM Online.

“If they only hire experienced [professionals], their time-to-fill will be quite long. If they instead focus on a balance of experienced and new grads and interns, they can grow talent versus just having to buy it. You must find talent that is agile and can learn and adapt and develop.”

Mastering the Balancing Act

The balancing act is the role of HR in technology-based talent management. It’s about blending needs by developing internal staff and augmenting with externals.

Internal tech staff want to continuously expand their knowledge and develop. Tech talent puts greater value on professional development than baseline salary. It keeps them up to date with the marketplace, current in the technology sector and in pay back, and a greater asset to the company.

Create development opportunities for your tech talent; allow them to be innovative in the way they learn – lunch and learns are great for knowledge sharing, as are online forums, and wikis. They increase knowledge retention in-house not by just one person but many – and with the added bonus of records of this too!

HR needs to take a different approach with tech talent. It’s about rebalancing the equation and allowing those with expiring skills to replace them with new ones.

That is how we increase the pool out there and prevent any implosions or bidding wars for the right talent. It’s far more beneficial to work with what you currently have and make it better, than to regularly chase a limited talent pool.