Flexibility and Growth: What Tech Talent Expects From Today’s Employers

Time to Read: 7.9 minutes

Updated: October 6, 2022

These days, the superstars of many organizations are in the tech teams. Their expertise is applied across multiple industries and, without this talent to drive innovation, many businesses, companies, and academic institutes would struggle.

However, there is not enough tech talent to fill vital roles. Despite the positive employment data in the US — unemployment is down to 4.3 percent and employee salaries are projected to grow by 3 percent during 2017 — the country needs more technical skills.

Combine the scarcity of talent, high demand, and a strong employment market, and it’s not hard to see how highly skilled IT people are the most restless of all talent, Anne Fisher writes in Fortune. Even during the economic downturn, unemployment among tech talent stayed below 4 percent.

This means tech talent, more than most other candidates, can afford to be selective in their employment. It’s imperative that recruiters and employers set the right tone when talking to them.

Here’s what you need to know to entice tech talent to your organization.

Competition for Strong Tech Talent is Fierce

John Dodge at the Boston Globe writes that in Massachusetts, recently graduated software developers can start a job at $90,000. They can get as many as 20 recruiting calls a day, and those who move often can see pay raises of about 20 to 25 percent from job to job.

This is why Russ Campanello, executive vice-president of HR at iRobot, tells Dodge that the talent market is the tightest he’s seen in 25 years. The sheer cost of high-quality tech talent can sometimes be a hurdle for employers, especially outside large tech centers.

Daniel Wesley, CIO of CreditLoan.com, says that most companies outside Silicon Valley can’t afford to pay the asking salaries of top talent, making hiring a serious challenge.

It’s a tough market out there for employers. Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0. as well as a research director at Future Workplace, says companies wanting to retain their talent will need to provide additional compensation, expand benefits and improve employee experiences. Writing at Fortune, he cites a study by Future Workplace and Kronos in which 87 percent of employers stated that improving retention is critical for the survival of their organization.

According to a Spiceworks report from 2016, of the 476 tech respondents in the study, 37 percent said they had planned to look for a new employer in 2017, and another 26 percent were about to accept a new job. That’s nearly two-thirds of respondents with at least one foot out the door.

The report further reveals that 59 percent of respondents believe they’re underpaid. Fewer than 1 in 4 expected a pay raise of more than 5 percent, and only 12 percent expected a promotion.

Many are upset by a perceived lack of support from leadership and a lack of prioritizing IT funds. The report suggests personnel losses may be imminent for companies reluctant to increase IT budgets and keep pace with technological change.

It’s Not All About the Money, Only Sometimes

Pay is a big deal for any employee, and being paid enough is essential to keep people happy. Money on its own, however, is insufficient to keep tech workers enthused and engaged.

Andrew Horne, IT practice leader at CEB, reports that about half of IT employees say they are likely to switch jobs if that new position came with better benefits, such as work-life balance or professional development opportunities.

Money, then, is not always tech talent’s top motivator. Money is great, but talent wants to shine.

So if it’s not just about the money, what is tech talent looking for?

1. Talented Tech People Seek Career Advancement

Alison Vincent, CTO at Cisco UK & Ireland, says technical staff wants freedom and the license to be creative. That’s how all employees open new doors for themselves. But as Schwabel says, when employees aren’t able to advance at work, they start looking elsewhere.

Tech talent wants career mobility and organizations that support their advancement across different departments or even a change to their occupation. Opening the doors of advancement has a dual benefit. First, it helps organizations retain talent. Further, it helps the organization maximize each person’s potential: According a study by Cisco and Future Workplace, offering career mobility helps increase employee engagement, productivity, and teamwork.

Advancement isn’t just about a promotion, either. James Brook at Fast Company writes how tech talent wants “objective, transparent, and person-centered succession” policies.

Most organizations don’t bother finding out what talent finds inspirational or aspirational, however. Instead, these organizations promote people to bigger roles with more work and little guidance. This leads to unmotivated and unproductive employees.

2. They Also Want Flexibility

So, tech workers want to be able to grow in a role or within an organization, but they also want flexibility. A global study by EY states that 74 percent of workers want to be able to work flexibly, whether it be flexible hours, telecommuting or other types of work arrangements.

A PayScale study on millennials in the technology and software industries backs this up. The study found that, beyond the desire for decent pay, respondents want flexible schedules and workstations, remote work, and dedicated vacation and sick time.

But it’s not just about talent wanting flexible options. Organizations also need flexible hiring processes. Daniel Wesley says companies should take the time to discover exactly what candidates are looking for in a role, and then those companies must demonstrate how they can deliver.

Wesley cites a personal example of hiring a cross-country candidate who was looking to relocate to the right environment for his family. During the recruitment, he highlighted the area’s family neighborhoods, schools, and lack of state income taxes. He threw in a relocation package to help get the candidate’s family settled, too.

“Spending a little on relocating the right candidate would cost less than replacing the wrong candidate,” Wesley writes.

3. They Want to Learn New Skills, Too

Talent wants to be able to grow in a role and this requires being given an opportunity to attend courses and pursue studies. A recent study by Udemy revealed that 46 percent of employees cite limited opportunities to learn new skills as the top reason for being bored at work — and why they want to change roles or companies. Data from the Spiceworks report back this up. As many as 69 percent of IT pros say they’d leave their jobs to advance their skills.

Learning is essential for tech talent. Their roles rely on agility and being up-to-date with a rapidly changing workplace and technological landscape. A tech person who does not train and learn becomes outdated quickly.

This is something Joel Sussman at Business News Daily writes about. Tech talent seeks employers who provide opportunities for skills development and IT certification, Sussman says. A particular focus these days is on cybersecurity expertise.

Sussman says 62 percent of professionals regard this as a vitally important skill to acquire. However, only around 45 percent of organizations currently employ or contract with a cybersecurity expert.

Peter Tsai, a Spiceworks IT analyst who spoke to Sussman for that piece, says IT professionals often don’t get the training they need to advance their careers and so they leave. Tech candidates want the opportunity to take technical courses, sit certification exams and attend conferences. If organizations don’t listen to these demands, they will rue their losses.

So How Do You Keep Tech Talent Interested?

An article by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) notes that tech candidates aren’t driven by status. They’re much more interested in ideals and the big-picture implications of the project they’re working on. As Tim Cannon at Fast Company writes, these employees want to see that their work is creating something valuable.

If organizations can show the result of the tech teams’ hard work, this can do a great deal to keep those team members engaged. Celebrating those results can become part of larger company culture, too. And culture is all about people, says Chris Wood, managing partner of Paige Technologies. Create the right culture, and you’ll find the right talent.

Then, it’s a matter of translating that larger culture to the employee experience, author Jacob Morgan writes. A company that listens to its employees and delivers the kinds of benefits those employees actually want (i.e. not necessarily a ping pong table) is more likely to hang onto its talented people.

“Catered meals, onsite dry cleaning, beautiful office spaces, modern technology, and flexible work programs may all seem like fancy perks, but all of the companies I have been speaking with leverage these things as strategic business initiatives,” Morgan writes.

Don’t ignore what’s working for small startups, either. “Big companies that want to keep tech talent can learn a lot from startups,” Dice president Shravan Goli says. Smaller companies tend to find better ways at personalizing roles for each new hire. Tasks are more customized and varied. While this level of customization is harder to achieve in large companies, it is not impossible.

Tech skills are a huge commodity and in short supply. For people with those skills, the job market is full of opportunity — and throwing money at these employees isn’t enough to keep them. They want regular challenges and space to grow. They want freedom and flexibility. Just like everyone else, they want to work for organizations with an inclusive culture, and they want to feel as if they’re a part of the bigger picture.

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Shanil Kaderali

Shanil Kaderali is a strategic talent acquisition leader with global experience. He's managed and led recruitment functions at companies like Cisco Systems, Symantec, WellPoint, as well as having worked for several Baker's Dozen RPO winners.

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