How to retain IT talent amid the great resignation

Recruiting and retaining IT professionals has never been harder. CIOs need to look beyond reward packages and understand what today’s candidates really want


Technicians using computer in server room

With the great resignation well under way and the IT sector already facing significant skills shortages, recruiting and retaining staff has, arguably, never been more important. CIOs must think more deeply than ever about how they can attract the talent required to deliver the IT infrastructure and innovation that will improve their firms’ bottom lines. 

Salary remains the most important element of any decision on which job to accept, confirms James Hallahan, director of Hays Technology in the UK and Ireland. According to its Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends 2022 guide, 57% of tech professionals expect to move jobs this year. The top reason for doing so, cited by 34%, was to obtain better pay and benefits. Both figures are higher than the average for all UK employees. 

But Hallahan warns that CIOs shouldn’t make salary their focus in attracting applicants. IT professionals are also seeking roles with clear potential for career development. 

“Your employer value proposition is the key to retaining talent, with opportunities that promise a rewarding future in the organisation,” he stresses.

Shivkumar Gopalan, CIO of software firm Unit4, reports that the youngest candidates have different expectations about career development from those of their predecessors. “The generation entering the workforce now are digital natives, comfortable with all forms of technology,” he says. 

This means a career in IT is no longer just about developing specialist technical skills. Candidates want to develop a broader knowledge of how an enterprise works and of IT’s role in driving a business forward. 

“If CIOs want to attract these candidates, they must demonstrate that they can offer immersive experiences that enable employees to collaborate with a wide range of expert colleagues – drawn not only from IT, but from all parts of the business,” Gopalan says.

Your employer value proposition is the key to retaining talent, with opportunities that promise a rewarding future in the organisation

The broader package is also important, according to Sarah Bennett, CIO of Mercator IT Solutions. “The basic salary needs to sit well in the market, but it needs to be topped up with a good pension, access to healthcare programmes and an all-encompassing benefit scheme, including subsidised gym membership, retail discounts and cinema tickets – all things that improve lifestyle,” she says. “Holiday entitlement should also be competitive and, possibly, increase after a certain length of service.”

IT professionals expect to be allowed to work flexibly, including a degree of remote working. Harvey Nash’s Digital Leadership Report 2021 has found that two-thirds of digital leaders expect most of their team members to work two to three days a week from home.

Robert Rutherford, CEO of QuoStar, who oversees the IT consultancy’s recruitment, believes that it’s important to give people the chance to work flexibly or to alter their package to fit their preferred working style. Because an employee’s needs and focus can fluctuate throughout their career, employers must be willing to adapt and work around these changes, he says. 

But Rutherford adds that not all employees will place a high value on flexibility, which is why it’s worth targeting different groups with different strategies. “It can pay dividends to focus on offering different compensation packages – and even to split-test recruitment advertising to appeal to candidates with varying preferences,” he suggests.

Company culture is another area that comes under scrutiny. This is where IT teams have a chance to develop cutting-edge propositions that will appeal to their potential recruits. Helena Nimmo, CIO of Endava, says companies can harness IT to differentiate their offering. She cites Google as an example, highlighting how it recently adapted its office environment to meet the demands of a hybrid working model by incorporating collaboration spaces and inclusive meeting rooms. 

“A priority for CIOs should be to think about how to create a virtual experience that mimics the physical,” Nimmo says, suggesting methods such as “intuitive connectivity capabilities that bridge the gap between rapidly advancing technology and real-world applications”.

The importance of culture extends to an employer’s broader values too. Issues such as sustainability and responsible business are becoming a higher priority for the next generation of IT professionals. Mark Mamone, group CIO of digital identity firm GBG, reports that he is “increasingly seeing this on an equal footing with the financial package” among candidates. 

Mamone believes that CIOs must think about the wider world, what prospective employees care about and how the organisation can engage with them. Companies must establish robust policies on environmental and social issues, as well as sound corporate governance in areas such as diversity and inclusion, the green agenda and charitable giving. GBG gives employees time off to support local community projects, for instance. 

Bennett suggests that CIOs should focus more of their efforts on keeping their existing team members, nurturing them and preparing them to assume more technical and/or senior roles within the company. “They may lack certain skills, but these can often be taught,” she says. “What they bring to the table is knowledge of the business and its client base, which should never be underestimated. The ability to demonstrate that the business looks after its employees and tries to upskill them will also help to attract new people.”

Other options include targeting specific groups of candidates, such as returning parents and older workers, but such approaches are unlikely to be anything more than a stop-gap measure, according to Rutherford, who says: “While there has recently been another push to hire from these pools, there is not enough resource to fill the roles that CIOs are recruiting for.”

The simple truth is that employers must develop a well-considered strategy to attract, develop and retain people that will prove effective over the longer term and give them a competitive edge in the war for IT talent. “This will probably take a few years to get up to speed,” Rutherford warns. “It will entail approaches such as building internal academies or ‘talent funnels’ too, but all this will be necessary if companies are to achieve sustainable success.”