The Delicate Balance of Recession Staffing

About 18 months ago, when Medtronic CIO Mike Hedges saw signs that the economy was headed into a prolonged downturn, he took a step to protect his company’s future.

Hedges started reaching out to future IT workers at universities throughout Minnesota, where the medical technology provider is based. He did presentations about IT at Medtronic, telling students how the company manages IT projects or detailing the importance of security in a regulated industry. He even arranged student visits to the IT department to see his team in action.

While Hedges hopes these steps will ultimately keep talented IT professionals flowing into his department, his goal is more general. “What I realized is, in the Minnesota area, everyone knows Medtronic, but no one knows Medtronic IT,” says Hedges.

Hedges, who manages a staff of 1,200 with an IT budget of $400 million, says he believes that casting Medtronic IT as a forward-thinking, entrepreneurial environment can help in attracting the best and brightest. “You want to excite them about not only the traditional IT, but also where you’re going with IT in terms of innovation and helping to spur the growth of the company,” he says.

That kind of aggressive recruiting approach may seem out of step with the times, as legions of IT workers find themselves unemployed, flooding the market with a sea of potential employees the likes of which haven’t been seen in years. But Hedges recognizes what many CIOs may be overlooking: that now is an ideal time to position your IT department as a desirable place to work, a move that might provide a critical edge when the economy rebounds and competition for talent is fierce again.

See also: Retention: Your Most Important Recruitment Priority?

In the meantime, however, Hedges and his peers must balance efforts to prepare for better times with strategies for filling the few positions they’re hiring for now. Unlike past years, when employers scrambled for talented workers who could write their own tickets, today the hiring power rests with the employer.

But that doesn’t mean hiring has gotten easier; in fact, in many ways it’s gotten more difficult. With so many IT professionals looking for work, IT staffs running lean and increasing pressure to maintain a laserlike focus on delivering business value, CIOs have to take special care to ensure that they’re making the right decisions when they get opportunities to hire.

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