Aussie skills crisis prompts IT workers to break the law

Constant talk of an IT skills crisis is encouraging workers to ditch their employers for better job offers before even spending a day in the office.

Newly-recruited IT staff in Australia are increasingly jumping ship before starting a job, according to a report by recruitment company Ambition.

A lot of potential employees are ignoring contracts they have signed in order to take up better offers from other companies during their 'onboarding period', or the time--typically four to six weeks--between agreeing to terms with an employer and starting work with them, said Andrew Cross, Ambition's MD. It has been a new development over the second half of this year, he said.

"The first time you hear it, you shake your head and say 'I can't believe people do it'," he said, but the increasing number of reports of such behavior have shown it to be a new trend.

The candidates don't realize the danger they are in, said Cross: "They are oblivious of the fact that they could be taken to court for breach of contract." Cross warns that it would only take one court case to start a wave of legal action, with companies seeking restitution for damages after being deserted by their new hires.

According to Cross, if such contract breaking is ruled against once, it will discourage 80 percent of possible offenders who would otherwise consider reneging on the agreement.

At the moment, companies are turning a blind eye, Cross said. He believes firms should take action against the contract breakers. If an employee was already bound by a contract before signing with a new company, the new company should revoke their contract.

"It says a lot about a person's integrity" if they walk out after signing a contract, Cross added.

Cross advised that a less aggressive way to fight the illegal behavior is for the companies to adopt different strategies during the 'onboarding period'. The potential employees need to be engaged in their new work environment, he said, for example by their new colleagues inviting them to work drinks. The "see you in four weeks" attitude needs to change, Cross said.

The recruitment companies also have to inform candidates of their contractual obligations, he added.

The amount of coverage the IT skills crisis has received in the press is partly responsible for the boldness of potential employees, according to Cross, with not only experienced workers but also newcomers to the industry offending the law.

In some ways it is "a positive sign" that the IT industry is buoyant, Cross admitted, but said he doesn't think "anyone other than the candidate is going to be happy about it".