IT jobs: Four ways to get the right talent your business needs

Lack of access to technology talent can inhibit business growth, so CIOs must ensure they use a range of tactics to attract the best people they can.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

When it comes to getting hold of the IT professionals that their businesses need, CIOs are involved in a war for talent – and the scale of the struggle is intensifying.

Finding the right talent is regularly listed as a top concern by bosses and cited as an inhibitor of future growth. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, how can managers get hold of the staff and the skills they need? Four CIOs share their best-practice tactics for winning the war for talent.

Make your work compelling and your workplace exciting

Michael Ibbitson, executive vice president for technology and infrastructure at Dubai Airports, says the key to attracting the best talent rests squarely with the CIO: "I think you need to create the best possible environment for people to want to work in," he says.

Ibbitson says much of his effort in this area is dedicated towards ensuring that IT professionals in his organisation can work on exciting projects. While you might expect his business to be competing with other airports or transport firms for talent, Ibbitson says he has grander strategic aims and wants to draw talent from the biggest possible pool.

SEE MORE: Using cloud, big data and biometrics to build the airport of the future

"I'm competing against Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and all the other tech companies. If we're going to be a technology-centric company in the future, then we're competing for the same talent. And one of the things that I'm quite proud of is the fact that what we've been able to do is attract talent based on word of mouth. People say this is a great place to come and work now, and that we're doing exciting projects," he says.

"And I think that's how you go about attracting talent. If you're just going to follow a very small recruitment process of putting a job description out and hoping that people apply for it, why would they apply for a role in an airport if they thought they could get a data scientist role in Google? So you've got to make it really compelling and exciting."

Create a wide pool of talent so that you can find people with a great attitude

Hugo Mathias, CIO at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust, says getting hold of the IT talent his organisation needs is a challenge, especially given the high wages offered by private sector firms that are also competing for the same capability. "People typically work in the NHS for lifestyle choice; you can get paid much more elsewhere," he says.

Mathias says one way of getting people to sign up for a role in the public sector is to focus on the societal benefits of working for an organisation like the NHS. While the idea of doing public good through work can be a significant pull, Mathias also says it's important to recognise that this won't be as crucial for every IT professional.

"I guess there's a point where you consider whether this is a job, a career or a calling. Ideally, you want people to do this as a calling, because they're the most committed people that you can find. But for some people, it's just a job – they come in at 9am and they leave at 5.30pm."

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

As Mathias doesn't have the opportunity to offer the big-money incentives offered by private sector peers, he has to work hard to attract as wide a pool of talent as possible. And once he has this pool, Mathias says the attitude of potential candidates – as well as their skills – is a critical factor when it comes to selecting the IT talent he needs.

"I do a matrix of skill and attitude – and I want people with good skills and good attitude," he says. "If they've got good skills but a bad attitude, we give them coaching. And if they've got good attitude but bad skills, we'll train them. What we don't want is people with bad skills and a bad attitude."

Recruit selectively for roles that will make a difference to your organisation

Ross Fullerton, CIO at London Ambulance Service (LAS), also recognises that it's tough to attract talent when you're a public sector IT leader, especially when you're based in the centre of London and competing for technology professionals with some of the biggest tech firms and blue-chip enterprises.

"It's really hard being in one of the world's leading technology environments," he says. "For all the great benefits of working in the NHS, London is an opportunity-rich environment for the best people. And I don't think we've got our strategy landed yet for making sure we attract the best possible talent."

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However, Fullerton believes the answer in part lies around his organisation focusing on recruiting selectively into the roles that will make the biggest difference to his organisation. And once IT workers see the benefits of working for LAS, he believes they'll see it as an attractive proposition, even in a very competitive marketplace.

"It's tough when you're got companies like Babylon Health, who are rightly making great advances in what they are doing and able to offer a different type of environment," he says. But Fullerton's staff get to see first-hand the difference they can make to patient care:  "Once you're into that, there's not many people that leave."

Reach beyond the enterprise firewall and develop innovative partnerships

Michael Cole, CTO for the PGA European Tour, says the vast scale of options in terms of technology choices creates issues for IT leaders who are on the look-out for capable professionals. One coping strategy is to work with trusted external partners and to use their knowledge to help fill skills gaps.

"My partners bring me the capabilities, the expertise and the experience I need," says Cole. "That helps me develop effective roadmaps for business stakeholders and gives me the confidence that we can fulfil against those roadmaps moving forward."

Cole says being prepared to work closely with external partners is also about recognising that his organisation can't possibly identify all digital solutions to the business challenges it faces by working in isolation.

Like Fullerton, he says creating novel ways of working, such as a technology innovation contest – established between the European Tour and Tata Communications – will help his organisation identify more opportunities for digital transformation in the sport. 

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"We don't know the opportunities that are out there, which is why we've created the innovation competition – to provide a pathway and a framework to help us deliver against some of those ideas, concepts and solutions that we perhaps haven't even thought about yet," says Cole.

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