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High-tech talent looking for more than just money

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Imagine having nearly 10 times as many job openings as candidates. With current statistics indicating 190,000 information technology openings exist and only 25,000 college graduates available each year to fill them, companies are spending millions of dollars on information technology (IT) talent annually.

However, a recent study by Hewitt Associates, a management consulting firm, suggests there are more issues to attracting and retaining IT professionals than compensation, stated a release from Hewitt.

Working on the latest technology, using new skills and being part of a "hot" company are just some of the top reasons IT professionals stay or leave their jobs, according to Hewitt's 1997 Best Practices Study.

Surveying more than 43,000 IT employees who work at companies throughout the United States, the study focused on what motivates this particular group of professionals, assuming salary is competitive.

"In today's hot information technology market, companies have to pay competitive salaries to attract talent," stated Edward L. Gubman, global practice leader for Hewitt Associates' Organizational Effectiveness practice and author of "The Talent Solution" (McGraw-Hill, $24.95). "But the companies that will win the battle for IT talent are the ones that also focus on the other needs of IT professionals, which are unique from other employee groups."

According to Hewitt's study, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of IT professionals remain at their current jobs because of the opportunity to learn and use new technology skills. Closely related is the chance to work on the latest technology (70 percent).

Other reasons IT employees stay with their employers include work environment (52 percent), a mix of technology development and maintenance (44 percent), the ability to start and finish projects (41 percent) and autonomy (33 percent).

"More than any other employee group, IT professionals are motivated by the challenge of learning new technology," Gubman said in the release. "Because technology tools advance so rapidly in today's market, they value working with companies that enable them to use superior technology and keep their skills current."

So, why do IT employees leave their jobs? The majority 70 percent say they leave their jobs for a promotion. More than half 56 percent say they don't stay at their jobs because of a poor work environment. Forty-one percent leave their jobs to work for a "hot" company, 33 percent to learn the latest technology and 30 percent because of a limited career path.

"Like most employees, IT professionals want to advance their careers. However, they are somewhat different in that many of them may not want to advance via the management track, so companies need to develop ways to promote them in other capacities," Gubman said.

Gubman, who consults with leading companies around the world on talent issues, suggests there are a variety of tactics employers can implement, in addition to competitive salaries that will be attractive to IT professionals, including:

?Leading-edge tools and equipment. "The opportunity to work on the latest technology is highly motivating to IT employees. While many companies can't invest in every new technology, they can still attract IT professionals by giving them an opportunity to attend conferences and trade shows that showcase it," Gubman said.

?Dual career paths. According to Hewitt's study, the top reason IT employees leave their jobs is for a promotion. "Our research has shown many IT employees want to advance their careers, but perhaps not to a management position. So companies need to create similar (dual) career paths to advance their technical and management employees," Gubman said.

?Training. "IT professionals want to learn how to use new technology, especially since it is so crucial to their career advancement," Gubman said. "However, employers will want to make sure they're training their talent on technology they plan to offer in the future; otherwise, it can lead to frustration."

?Flexibility. According to Hewitt's study, a third of IT employees (33 percent) say autonomy is the reason they remain at their current jobs. "Flexible work hours and the opportunity to work at home are items that can really make a difference," Gubman said.

?Creative/fun work environment. "Work environment is one of the reasons IT talent decide to stay or leave their jobs," Gubman said.

"Casual dress, parties to celebrate the completion of a project and employee recognition are significant but inexpensive ways companies can positively motivate their IT staff."

"The Talent Solution," which is Gubman's first book, represents

20 years of work and feedback

from companies throughout the world on how to align people and strategies to increase business results.

Hewitt consults with numerous Fortune 500 companies on information technology talent issues.

In addition to developing and implementing the 1997 Best Practices Study, Hewitt has facilitated several roundtable discussions with large employers to evaluate IT talent trends.

Hewitt Associates LLC is a global management consulting firm specializing in human resource solutions.

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