CIO View: Staffing in the Great Recession

One thing CIOs can agree on today: IT recruitment bears no resemblance to any hiring market that’s existed in recent years. With so many IT professionals looking for work, IT staffs running lean, and an increasing focus on delivering business value, CIOs need to know what they can expect to find when they get opportunities to hire.

Mike Hedges, CIO of medical device-maker Medtronic Inc., has had to navigate the hiring landscape as the company has embarked on an aggressive ERP implementation, now nearly complete. And while the market is filled with talented IT folks hoping to catch on somewhere, there remains an elusive needle-in-a-haystack quality to finding the best fits for Medtronic’s needs.

From a sheer numbers perspective, separating the wheat from the chaff is more of a challenge than ever. Consider that whereas a typical Medtronic IT job posting used to attract 10 or 15 applicants, now 30 or 40 or even 50 jobseekers apply for each position.

And while many CIOs are attracted to the bargains that such competition has brought to the hiring market, Hedges cautions that falling in love with the low bid can be a trap. That’s why he focuses on the attributes he values above all else: flexibility, positive attitude, great communication style, and, of course, technology savvy. Finding people with those characteristics can help an IT department maintain its focus on growth and innovation throughout the recession, rather than merely performing helpdesk and maintenance functions. "Growth and innovation is going to be critical to keeping your company where it needs to be when things improve," Hedges says.

Luckily for Hedges and other CIOs, there’s a segment of the job-seeking market that’s traditionally not been an option, and that offers unparalleled flexibility: contractors. With fewer contracting gigs to be had, and less money being thrown at them, growing numbers of IT contractors have begun looking for permanent work. And because they’ve tended to work in so many different situations, accumulating experience with multiple companies and numerous technologies, they offer the sort of jack-of-all-trades capabilities that can work so well in an IT environment driven by business results.

But that growth-and-innovation focus doesn’t always trump the need for good, old-fashioned IT skills. And even in a recession job market filled with otherwise qualified candidates, CIOs sometimes find themselves needing to support newer technologies that require harder-to-find capabilities. For instance, Hedges has had difficulty locating candidates experienced in working with Oracle Fusion Middleware, a set of standards-based components designed to work with Oracle’s line of Fusion applications.

With the hiring market such a potential minefield of risks and hard-to-find skills, Hedges and other CIOs are finding that one of their best recruitment strategies is to hold on to their most treasured current employees. Even that’s a challenge, given the limitations on what a CIO can offer his top performers, but Hedges says that in the absence of such rewards, it’s a matter of making people feel appreciated. "What most employees want to know is that they’re respected for the work they do, and even in these tough times when salaries may be low and bonuses may be non-existent, that they still have a job," he says.

And, at the very least, keeping those folks happy will prevent a CIO from having to scour the haystacks for one more needle.

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