An organisation’s track record and reputation for handling its employees is far more important than offering opportunities to work on leading-edge platforms. So says Ivor Rimmer, MD of Bateleur Resourcing.
"The South African IT industry is small, and word travels fast, so if a company has a culture of treating its employees poorly, overworking them and destroying their families, it is unlikely to be successful in attracting and retaining staff,” he says.
With the current skills shortage, retaining existing employees is even more vital than recruiting new people. Organisations can’t afford to lose the company knowledge which employees accumulate over time, and Rimmer therefore recommends that salaries are kept market-related, and are adjusted when new people are brought in.
Furthermore, he says the management of IT talent is a critical component of business strategy – and it demands an approach which is tailor-made to optimise the potential of these professionals.
“In contrast to their counterparts in manufacturing or retail, IT professionals are creative, skilled intellectuals who need a healthy dose of emotional management in order to deliver on the promise of their potential.”
An effective management style is particularly important in the IT industry, where talent has become a scarce commodity. Rimmer believes it is possible to find and retain the desired calibre of IT skills – which he admits is an ongoing challenge – by maintaining an impeccable record of nurturing staff.
He says employees fall into three broad categories: high flyers, steady workers and dead wood. While organisations need a mix of the first two, there is no place for totally unproductive employees.
“Organisations should send employees who qualify as dead wood a signal by not increasing their remuneration,” Rimmer suggests. “They can also be given the same challenges and expectations as the high flyers in the company. They will either live up to the challenge or buckle under the pressure and move on. Either way, they will work themselves out of the system.”
Commenting on specific areas where talent is in short supply, Rimmer says the demand for certain skills changes so fast that the best approach is to recruit IT professionals with the ability to constantly tackle new learning curves and broaden their knowledge.
“Today’s IT professional needs to be able to cross-skill and learn a wide variety of different languages,” he says. “Beyond that, the shortage of good black IT professionals is ongoing and will take time to rectify. Government needs to re-evaluate the tertiary education system, and business should look at what it is doing to get skills up to speed in the interim.”