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April 13, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 11:28am

The Great Skills Exodus: How to transform your IT department to retain staff

C-level briefing: EMC's country manager for UK and Ireland explains to CBR why a 'rebrand' of IT is necessary.

By Alexander Sword

The ability to attract and keep IT talent is becoming increasingly important as more and more businesses look to digitally transform their operations.

A new survey by EMC found that 71 percent of IT and cyber security workers have looked for roles at other organisations in the past year.

The report, titled ‘The Great Skills Exodus’, surveyed 500 IT and cyber security workers in the UK and Ireland.

This shortage of skills and the resulting competition manifests in increased salaries for IT staff: the 2016 Robert Half Salary Guide found that as a whole, the IT industry will see rises of 4 percent on average, with hiring set to increase 4 percent. This is above the average of 3 percent across all industries.

However, the survey predominantly found that other factors loomed almost as large as salaries in IT staff’s motivations for leaving.

While being underpaid was cited as a factor by 51 percent of respondents, other ‘softer’ factors were cited as almost equally important.

Restrictions on career progression were cited by 49 percent, while unwillingness to change the way that ‘things have always been done’ were cited by 26 percent of respondents.

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A lack of senior understanding of IT’s role in achieving corporate goals were also cited by 23 percent.

20 percent of IT employees felt held back by restrictions on implementing new technologies, while 30 percent felt they had few opportunities to demonstrate their ability.

There was a strong disconnect between how the IT department perceived itself and wanted to be perceived, and how it felt it was being perceived. The survey found 78 percent feeling that the growth and success of their organisation was fundamentally dependent on them and their team.

"People want to feel that they are relevant and want to see a path for themselves," Ross Fraser, UK and Ireland country manager at EMC, told CBR.

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"A lot of IT departments are kind of a remote function of the business rather than an integral part of the business."

He added that companies need to make sure that their staff receive training as a matter of course. The study revealed that 67 percent only received training twice a year, with 11 percent saying they had never received training since being in their role.

"The world is moving so fast that you need to be doing more training rather than less," Fraser told CBR. "If an employee is that key to a company, they have to train them properly, make sure they have the career path, make sure that their skills are relevant."

As well as providing training, Fraser said that IT departments needed to "rebrand" themselves to "try and bring innovation, ideas and capabilities rather than just being seen as that cost centre."

This tied into the lack of career progression perceived by the IT professionals.

"If they don’t see the IT department progressing and becoming an underpinning element of the whole business and strategy, that in their own mind can equate to a feeling of not progressing in their careers, a feeling of being stuck in the same-old," Fraser told CBR.

Fraser said that the most successful IT departments would continually be experimenting with new methodologies and architectures and crucially, creating new roles.

This means that staff will be able to progress in their careers at a matter of course.

"It’s about making sure that you move forward as an IT entity and become more and more relevant. An IT department which is not progressing, that only sees constraints from a cost perspective coming down, will not be a comfortable place to be."

"If you’ve got all of these aspects you have the recipe for success, rather than being seen as adding no value and being a very costly entity."

In terms of positives, 42 percent selected positive reputation and the same named pay package as things that would attract them to companies.

Interestingly, where the organisation was based was cited by 37 percent.

A recent survey of 150 Tech London Advocates conducted in November 2015 found that London is gaining on San Francisco as a destination for skilled technology staff as the sector continues to grow.

While 42 percent believed that San Francisco will remain the dominant location for digital workers, 33 percent of London‘s technology community believed it was easier to recruit staff there than to the Bay Area, according to research by Tech London Advocates.

The findings show that a proactive approach to recruiting staff is needed.

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