Karen Hebert-Maccaro: Finding and retaining the top tech talent

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Karen Hebert-Maccaro: Finding and retaining the top tech talent

Every business today is arguably a technology business. Tech underpins almost every aspect of operations, leading to a huge demand for skilled IT workers across every industry and job function.

That said, talented technical employees are hard to come by. What’s more, they know how in-demand they are. So how can businesses attract and retain the talent they need to achieve their digital transformation ambitions?

The key is to understand what makes employees tick. Businesses need to create roles that match individuals’ strengths, and which keep them engaged and challenged. Above all, talented technical workers crave a sense of purpose. To deliver, there are practical steps organisations can take to position themselves as technical talent hotspots where employees feel valued, engaged and on the pathway to a fulfilling career.

What workers want

Popular belief indicates younger workers are less motivated by money, and instead value recognition, responsibility and ‘experiences’ at work – and there’s some truth to this. While remuneration is a factor, a survey of Facebook employees found that their key motivations were career, community and cause. Now, it’s more important than ever for businesses to consider these factors if they want to hold onto their valued employees.

Talented employees want the opportunity to pursue their interests and develop their skills; they want to feel part of a team; and they want to be doing something that makes a difference. Of course, every employee is different and has a unique set of motivations. Nevertheless, this triumvirate is an excellent starting point for organisations seeking to create an attractive, meaningful place to work.

Creating meaningful careers

Careers used to be fairly simple: an employee started on the bottom rung and worked their way up to a management position and perhaps beyond. For many people today this will still be the pathway they want to follow. But organisations cannot assume that this is everyone’s ambition, especially not for talented technical employees who may not want to leave the coalface where their skills are best employed and where they feel they are making the greatest impact.

The worst thing a business can do is to fail to give employees challenging and strategic work. Instead, consider how you can create bespoke career paths that provide the opportunity for workers to develop their skills and achieve greater recognition, while also satisfying their desire to support the organisation’s strategic goals.

It’s not just where workers are headed that’s important, but how they are supported on their journey. This is where many businesses need to adopt longstanding approaches to training and professional development. Technical people like programmers and IT professionals often operate in ‘solve mode;’ preferring on-demand, performance-adjacent learning, rather than having to sit through arbitrarily-scheduled training sessions.

The best performance-adjacent approach involves frictionless access to a vast body of resources and combines this with a range of highly-specific micro-learning modules that help workers with the task in front of them. Naturally, these resources need to be constantly updated, providing further opportunity to engage employees by encouraging them to contribute to training and education resources.

Set employees free

As workers grow into their roles it’s important to reward them with a degree of flexibility on the projects they work on. There are many ways you can do this; for example, by allowing an employee to temporarily shadow a role they’re interested in, exposing a frontend developer to server-side work and vice-versa. These types of opportunities help to keep your technical talent engaged, continuously learning and exposed to new ideas, even if they’re primarily focused on one or two core technologies over long periods of time.

If you leave someone in a position for too long, they risk becoming bored by a day-to-day routine that never seems to change. By bringing some fluidity into employees’ roles, a business will not just keep employees engaged, but will also benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas and skills among different teams and lines of business, which can be crucial for catalysing innovation.

Businesses can also create a sense of freedom and engender trust by encouraging workers to pursue their own interests. Research shows that organisations like Google allows its employees to spend 20 percent of their time on company-related passion projects that are only tangentially linked to their day-to-day responsibilities. Enabling employees to work on organisational projects that spark their personal interest can help with both engagement and loyalty, while also fostering a culture of collaboration.

One-size-fits-none

It is important to remember that following a specific set of recommendations that has worked for another company, may not work for yours. Too much proscription or prescription won’t help build a great place to work. Forcing an employee to shadow someone or work in a new department can be as harmful as not providing the opportunity at all.

Instead, organisations need to master something that doesn’t always come naturally to businesses: treating people as individuals. Managers should be cognizant to their team’s unique needs and motivations and commit to helping them find a balance between getting work done and creating a career path they desire.

Finding and retaining top tech talent is no easy feat, but with these four approaches, your organisation can start creating a better, more meaningful culture for employees, and thus helping your business succeed.

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About Karen Hebert-Macarro

Karen Hebert-Maccaro is presently senior learning adviser at O’Reilly responsible for leading and managing the organisation’s learning strategy. In this capacity she oversees the management and development of learning initiatives and programs for O’Reilly Online Learning, the company’s learning and training platform and manages both creation and curation of content to innovate new learning experience products both on and off the platform. Prior to joining O’Reilly she was in various talent management roles including vice president of people development and chief learning officer for companies in both biotechnology and healthcare technology. Karen holds a PhD from Boston College, an EdM from Boston University, and a BA from the University of Massachusetts.

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