Technical vs. Behavioral Skills

By Eileen Colkin Cuneo  |  Posted 09-15-2008 Print


EUC with HCI: Why It Matters

Whether from a staffing firm or straight out of college, there are some capabilities that workers will either have or will never learn. "Technical skills are important, but 80 percent of what our clients are looking for is behavioral," Mauney says.

Clients want staff that not only have experience in their specific vertical industry, but who can interact well with their team. To that end, Robert Half provides its consultants with business and technical training. Many clients hire the consultant permanently if the relationship is working, and Robert Half is happy to see the match cemented. Mauney encourages all her clients to continue training their staffs as part of an overall retention strategy.

With good reason. More than salary, soft benefits like training make workers stay in the job they have, according to a report issued in August by research firm Computer Economics Research. A CER survey of 71 U.S. IT organizations found that training and other non-economic factors such as flexible scheduling, paid time off and social environment have a stronger correlation with lower turnover than factors such as base salaries, retirement and savings programs and incentive pay. Though important, salaries aren't everything. "If they're just looking for the best pay, they'll go on to the next company that pays better when they get the opportunity," says CER Research Director John Longwell. Perks like a four-day work week or two days a week of telecommuting might be harder to give up.

Reducing the churn rate is imperative as businesses are about to lose a large portion of their workforce not to other companies, but to retirement. By 2016, 70 million people are expected to exit the workforce, while only 40 million will enter. Technology is expected to be one of the harder-hit sectors, as not only will the jobs be vacated, but many new jobs in areas like software development and networking will be created during the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It's not just the pending retirement exodus that has today's IT leaders nervous for the future of the systems they're investing in today. Since 1998, there's been nearly a 50 percent decline in the number of students choosing a major in computer science at Ph.D.-granting colleges and universities, according to the Computing Research Association, an association of computer science academic departments and related organizations. A painful combination--the dot-com bust in the late 1990s, the post-9/11 tightening of visas for foreign students (who often assimilated into the U.S. workforce after graduation) and the perception that domestic IT jobs are unreliable in an offshore-happy environment--has created an anti-technology sentiment among college students in the last decade. The trend is only beginning to show signs of reversing, but not by much. In 2007, only 75 more students chose a computer science major than in 2006.

Here's a look at how four IT managers are handling the talent crunch:

ACH Food Cos.

National Institutes of Health

Ingenuity Associates

Bank of New York Mellon  


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