Technology Shifts Force Companies to "Build &amp Buy" Staff

A highly competitive job market is forcing employers to rethink how they hire and retain employees

P> High-tech employers are bending over backward to find people with the right kind of skills. Even in the age of corporate downsizing and mass layoffs, many employers are crying out that the skilled workers they need are in short supply in the Netplex.

"[Competition between employers] is the worst it has been in more than 30 years," said Roger Snelling, employment manager for PRC Inc., McLean, Va. And it's going to stay that way for at least another two years, he predicted.

One reason for the supply problem is the rapid pace of technology change. It has outpaced people's ability to keep up, said Snelling.

To find people who can keep up with the rapid rate of technology shifts, companies are rethinking not only how they recruit people, but also how they retain them. It's no longer enough to place an ad in the paper, although The Washington Post and other local papers benefit from the short supply of high-tech employees. The Post's high-tech career supplement has just increased from twice a year to three times per year because of advertiser demand.

Even though companies place the ads, many are disappointed with the results. At CSC Consulting, five ads generated more than 600 resumes, but no one was a good match, said Michele Simpson, recruiting coordinator. Networking is the most effective tool for employers seeking to hire, followed by the use of search firms.

Businesses "have to use a build-and-buy approach," Snelling said. They must build up the skills of current employees while buying new blood.

Continuous training is one tactic to retain highly skilled employees. Training in new skills can offer job security, as well as lucrative financial rewards. AT PRC, employees who successfully complete training get a 10 percent to 20 percent pay raise. "It's a nice way to fast track people and give them something to stay around for," Snelling said.

But that doesn't mean training can't be used to attract people. Two things people are most interested in are money and future training, said Terrell Waller, an executive recruiter with the Consulting Group of North America in McLean, Va. If people can move to a company that promotes training, they'll snatch it up, he said.

Because of the short supply of talented people, it is common to see employees receive pay increases of 5 percent to 15 percent when they switch jobs, Waller said. Everyone wants people with software skills in whatever the hot technology is. People with Java skills are currently in high demand.

Competition is stiff even for entry-level positions. Many college students have four or five offers before they graduate. Senior employers get calls from headhunters at least once or twice a week, Snelling said. These highly sought-after people can pick and choose among companies whose features they find most attractive, whether it be the type of work they are performing, their salary, benefits package or their potential to move up within the company.

To be more competitive, PRC has even started offering full benefits to part-time employees. "We recognize that demographics have changed," Snelling said. People have families, or they may have to drive more than an hour to get to work. Allowing flexible hours, compressed work weeks or telecommuting often can be the key to attracting and keeping good employees.

But Waller disagreed that benefits make a difference. "It's a kill or be killed market," he said. Companies want people who are willing to work long hours and travel.

To make their case with potential new hires, employers begin the recruitment process earlier -- in some cases, even at the high school level. Both PRC and EDS regularly employ high school interns. It's a great way for a person to get to know the benefits of a particular company and to help them hone their skills to meet that employer's needs, Snelling said.

Contrary to popular opinion, most employees who are fresh out of school, at least at PRC, "can hit the ground running, and with minimal supervision, keep on going," Snelling said. He attributes this, at least partially, to close ties with George Mason University.

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