Employers must make a compelling case to land IT talent

Supply and demand stands out as the biggest challenge that companies face in securing talent that is capable of working on their IT systems, says Grant A. Derner, executive vice president at Nesco Resource.

A recent report drafted by Nesco found that while there are 33,000 candidates in the IT workforce in the Cleveland area and more than 2,700 open jobs in the sector, there are only 18 candidates per job.

“The candidate supply in the region is stretched very thin,” the report states. “The number of candidates per job is historically low, leaving very little room for error in selecting a candidate.”

The majority of job candidates who are identified and placed in the IT sector are passive candidates, Derner says. They have steady work and need to be sold on a new opportunity in order to be willing to make a change. That puts the burden on the employer, or the recruiter working on the employer’s behalf, to create positions that are more attractive.

Smart Business spoke with Derner about IT staffing trends, the labor pool and the strategies used to attract talent in the current market.

What challenges do companies face in recruiting IT talent?
The majority of candidates in the IT sector don’t want the work to be narrowed down to a limited skill set. These people are attracted to companies where they can come in and use a broad range of skills to provide a high level of service to the employer while also growing their own personal skill set and resume.

This creates a disconnect with companies that have a very specific need and are only interested in candidates who will fill that need. Openings could include an app developer, a .Net developer or another position that is very narrowly focused. This type of opening will likely require a competitive pay and benefits package in order to entice the individual to take it.

The market is such that those in the workforce can afford to wait for the right opportunity. Someone who has a good job with benefits and other perks, as well as the flexibility to do different types of work, is not likely to jump at the opportunity to take a job that is more narrowly focused.

What’s the key to making a strong presentation with the job description?
Recruiters need to understand clients and how they operate. These are professionals whose job is to find people who can do a particular job. They want to know the main skill set that the client’s hiring manager is looking for.

Initially, that hiring manager may list many different skill sets that he or she considers to be important. That’s not going to get the job done. The recruiter will want to sit down with the client and break down the job description to its essential elements in an effort to make the opening more attractive to potential candidates.

In addition, companies should talk about their growth, their place in the industry and what makes their organization an appealing place to work. The more details they can provide and use as incentives to join that company, the better the odds of landing a strong candidate.

This is a necessary part of the process in a market that has become so competitive. It’s also an indicator that while salary is very important, it’s not always a differentiator in the decision-making cycle.

How has the talent pool for IT workers changed?
In terms of graduate supply versus overall education level, data shows an opportunity for employers in the growing number of candidates with associate degrees. While overall education numbers leaned toward a bachelor’s degree, the current graduate supply leaned (sometimes heavily) in the direction of an associate degree.

Economics and education trends have promoted associate degrees as a viable path to employment for many people. The technology skills obtained through these programs often surpass similar bachelor’s programs that may have less emphasis on technical skills.

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Staffing firms help focus your search for job candidates

Companies partnering with staffing agencies to hire highly skilled laborers who can work on a temporary basis are finding it increasingly difficult to fill open positions. Focusing the requirements for candidates while maintaining a perspective on the candidate pool is necessary for companies to succeed in this job environment, says Nick Bailey, Area Manager at Nesco Resource.

“The labor market has changed over the past 15 years and many HR managers are still adjusting to this new reality,” Bailey says. “The most talented skilled maintenance technicians are currently working great jobs with good pay and benefits. They aren’t likely to be interested in leaving that stability for a position that might not even last three months.”

Unicorn hunting is a phrase used to describe companies that are in search of the “perfect” candidate who checks off every box on their list. That may actually exclude the best available candidates in the pool, Bailey says.

“It’s the psychology of choice,” he says. “We assume there is an unlimited number of candidates and the perfect candidate can’t possibly be the one you’re sitting in front of right now. Unfortunately, it’s paralysis by analysis. The more options you have, the less likely you are to make a decision at all.”

Smart Business spoke with Bailey about how to manage, not lower your expectations, and get on the path to filling your company’s personnel needs.

What is the difference between tough positions and those job openings that are impossible to fill?

Staffing professionals like a good challenge and want to find the perfect candidate for customers. But they also know the candidate landscape. If you’ve had a position open for six months, or have interviewed a dozen candidates with no luck, it may be time to rethink what it takes to get the position filled.

The staffing professional you’re working with is likely to know the reasons why. It could be offering a pay rate that does not match up with the required experience for the position. Some companies also declare that the position is only available on a temp-to-hire basis. There are some parameters that will simply exclude all or the vast majority of candidates available.

How can you avoid unicorn hunting without lowering expectations?

It’s not about lowering expectations, but rather working with your staffing provider to understand the candidate pool and manage expectations. For example, if you think of the job description as a wish list, which points on that list are mandatory?

If you clarify the essential skills that the candidate needs to do the job and indicate flexibility for others that would be nice to have, but aren’t imperative, you put yourself in a better position to fill your open slot.

Perhaps even more importantly, you need to give a candidate a reason to want to come and work for you. What are the advantages of the opportunity you’re presenting? How could this job help the candidate boost his or her own resume? What are you willing to offer candidates that they might not get with other companies? If you have a strong 401(k) or profit sharing plan or a competitive salary, that’s going to make your opening more attractive.

How do companies get into unicorn hunting in the first place?

Many companies just don’t have deep expertise on the process of matching a skilled laborer with a position of need. Staffing firms have years of experience filling positions and they have their finger on the pulse of the labor market. They know who is out there, what they’re looking for and who might be a good fit for your business. Employers who tap into that expertise and are willing to look at the market from the employee’s point of view can make headway on filling personnel needs.

The other key point is to not be afraid to hire someone who appears to be a solid candidate. If you have an individual who has a good resume, a good interview, a strong reference letter and seems to fit your needs, go ahead and make the hire. Avoid the temptation to wait for a ‘perfect’ candidate who you likely will never find.

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Staffing industry more equipped than ever to fill labor needs

Technology enables the staffing industry to fill client needs with pinpoint accuracy, says Heath Luikart, Vice President of Operations at Nesco Resource. As demand continues to grow for temporary skilled labor, these tools that make it easier to match the client with the right worker will become even more critical.

“Contracting companies are not passively waiting for applicants to walk through the door in hopes of stumbling upon a candidate that may fit a client of theirs,” Luikart says. “Systems are in place to actively seek that candidate. It allows these firms to be proactive in their approach and build a database around client needs. And it allows clients to be part of the process.”

Just as you can track the shipment of a product from a manufacturer, companies can check in on how the search is going to identify the right person to fill their specific needs.

“They have access into the system to see where job candidates are in the process,” Luikart says. “It really keeps them in the loop and helps them feel like they are part of the process rather than standing on the outside and being left to wonder what’s happening.”

Smart Business spoke with Luikart about how technology is making life easier for both contracting companies and the people who utilize their services.

How is technology supporting the staffing industry?

There are multiple types of technology used today, including vendor management systems, customer relationship management systems and applicant tracking systems. These tools enable contracting companies to manage client information, distribute jobs, track hours and consolidate and track invoices. Most importantly, they store and organize valuable data, including applicant resumes, that streamlines the process to connect a client with the right person for a particular job.

The reporting capabilities, the analytics, the automation of reaching out to customers and having touchpoints is all done through these systems. It creates something akin to an artificial intelligence that is constantly working in the background to bring candidates into the database that can solve client needs.

How does this system function?

Technology enables job candidates to get real-time alerts and notifications across multiple forums to let them know about opportunities in their market. If they are interested in an opportunity, they can receive paperwork electronically and then complete, sign and email it back or upload it to the system directly. They can also access their portal at any given time to review these documents. Once they are on the job, assessments can be completed online and they can enter hours via computer, tablet or mobile device. They can also receive surveys that allow them to provide feedback about their work experience. Technology provides workers with a stronger voice to communicate at any time, or least in set increments.

What value do these tools provide?

Turnaround time is one of the biggest pain points for customers in the staffing industry. When the need for help arises, the customer expects a quality solution to be found quickly. Technology helps make this happen, creating a more streamlined approach to get the most qualified candidate in the fastest time. Systems are developed to follow a particular business and its needs and continually build a database based off of that information. Data for a specific client can be pulled within a minute’s notice. Reporting is a big piece, whether it be turnover, attrition rates, supply and demand, total spend by departments or certain fluxes that have been identified. The goal is to provide answers at every level and leave little, if anything, to chance.

How will technology continue to evolve?

Like all technology, not all features are used or needed. The important thing is to have options. Social media will continue to drive processes and create new ones. Big data will continue to impact the market and the technology used in the staffing industry. It provides a lot of analytics from multiple locations in open-sourced format, to drill down and pull that information back for both candidates and clients, which will continue to shape how the staffing industry does business.

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Contractors see vast opportunity working in the IT infrastructure space

As technology continues to evolve, there is a growing need for qualified individuals who can help businesses build and manage their IT infrastructure, says Grant A. Derner, Executive Vice President at Nesco Resource. The challenge is matching the right people with the right skills with a growing need across the country.

“We tend to think of the IT industry focusing on the coasts and within cities,” Derner says. “But when you drive down any highway, look to your left or to your right and you see a building. That building has IT needs inside of it, infrastructure that needs to be installed, maintained, changed and/or upgraded. As more and more companies continue to invest in new technologies, the demand is only going to go up. Getting qualified workers into the space is a priority, but with the current shortage, there is also a challenge.”

To meet this challenge, companies are increasingly turning to the contract recruiting industry for help.

“Contracting companies that focus on that particular niche can identify individuals with the needed skill set,” Derner says. “This eliminates the challenge of recruiting for the business and enables these companies to maintain flexibility in their hiring which can provide a cost savings and also free up budgets to focus on other areas of potential growth.”

Smart Business spoke with Derner about the usage of contingent staffing for IT infrastructure work.

What is IT infrastructure?

When most people think of IT, they think of people programming software. But there is a whole wired infrastructure in every business that continuously needs to be monitored. This includes the company’s entire collection of hardware, software, networks and data centers. When you go beyond that, the equipment that is used to develop, test, operate and manage all of that is a wide, very broad spectrum. Everything that you look at and touch has some piece of infrastructure related to it.

How difficult is it for someone outside the company to step in and do this work?

This type of work is very task-specific and well defined — here is the project, here are the number of installs or moves you need to complete. The job for the contracting company is to go out and find somebody who specifically understands that task or has done it in the past. When it’s done right, the contractor can hit the ground running on day two. Day one is more like orientation to go over the outlay of the project and any special instructions for that location. Day two, it’s time to get to work. It’s actually easier work than would face a full-time IT person who has to wear multiple hats in the organization.

What is the key to success for working with a contractor recruiter?

If you work with a contracting company that is trying to be all things to all people, it’s going to be more difficult for that company to provide someone with the specific expertise you are looking for. You want to find a company that has the processes and talent to understand the intrinsic differences related to the contract and the skill to make a match with the right contractor.

How do people working in this space keep up with the latest technological advances?

Contractors that work in this space tend to look at what’s hot and then go out and obtain certificates or additional training that gives them skills they can put to use right away. If you’re an IT contractor, you can demonstrate, ‘I received this training and now I’m doing that work.’ There are a lot of growth opportunities as infrastructure needs continue to change.

In a lot of cases, the growth of knowledge stems from a desire to learn. If you’re in this field, you’re likely very interested in managing databases or ensuring that a configuration is set up properly or upgrading a server. You are always working to stay ahead of the curve. As a contractor who works in the contingent staffing industry, you don’t have to go out on your own in search of new opportunities. You can work with the staffing provider to find opportunities where your expertise is needed and focus on doing that work rather than trying to simultaneously manage your own business.

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