Employers pay more for staff as skills crunch bites hard

By Jennifer Foreshew

Companies are offering perks to retain talent, headhunting overseas and poaching from other industries.

Technology skills remain in short supply despite a gloomier economic outlook, and Australian employers are searching offshore for talent as well as boosting salaries and perks to keep existing staff.

According to recruiter Michael Page’s ‘Technology salary and employment forecast 2008-09’, 41 per cent of organisations have boosted salaries because of the tightening skills market, while 32 per cent have offered workplace flexibility.

Some 23 per cent of employers have targeted other industries and 21 per cent are using global recruitment, the recruiter finds.

Rob Mackinnon, an analyst and consultant with Intelligent Business Research Services, said initiatives such as ‘wellness programs’ that offered staff exercise classes, time out for exercise and free or cheap membership for pools or gyms were becoming popular.

When times are tough, it is possible to recruit overseas, but there is lot of effort involved in doing that unless you have some good contacts.

"You really have to offer something attractive to get staff to come, he said."

"Then there is always the risk that they may not settle down in a new country."

Mr Mackinnon, a former chief information officer, said companies were also searching outside IT in other business sectors to recruit and train people for roles such as business analysts.

"There is fertile ground there, and sure, it is poaching from business, but it often works out really well."

Mr Mackinnon said other strategies such as skills transfer could also be beneficial for retaining staff.

"One of the things I am finding that seems to be attractive is to get specialist organisations in for a time and have some high-performing staff in an organisation work side by side with them," he said.

Queensland company TechnologyOne has attracted 80 new staff since the start of this year and expects to recruit 250 in the next 12 months.

It has participated in career fairs overseas to lure new recruits to fill some vacancies, but prefers to hire locally.

It has also developed a range of employee benefits to attract new developers to the company, including free breakfasts, regular social events for graduates, team building activities, open access to social networking sites and networked games, as well as flexible working hours.

National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) chief information officer Warren Don said international recruitment has not been an option for the research centre of excellence due to the cost of relocation, visas and training.

"We’ve have been successful at recruiting graduates and then training them in the areas where we are lacking," Mr Don said. "We’ve employed graduates and placed them in roles for systems programming and application development."

The pool of candidates has been drying up fast and the organisation’s investment in training has dramatically increased, he said.

The slump in graduate numbers and the loss of Australians to overseas markets meant global recruitment was considered an option for sourcing experienced people, Michael Page technology national director Simon Lynch said.

"The areas that overseas recruits are most in demand are really financial services, particularly the large investment banks," Mr Lynch said.

"What they want is IT people with particular product knowledge, and obviously that is in limited supply in Australia."

Other companies were more open to other strategies such as global recruitment because of the difficulty of sourcing more technical staff such as programmers, he said.

Mr Lynch said overseas candidates often moved to Australia for a lifestyle change. The most popular markets for recruits were New Zealand, Asia and Britain.

"The skills shortage in IT is only going to get more pronounced, so the alternative is to look external to the local market."

Hudson IT& T national practice leader Patrick March said there had been more discussion in the market about global recruitment. "I know in the telecoms market there are certain skills in demand in this country that simply don’t exist here," Mr March said. "Sometimes the global strategy is to bring Australians home as well."

Other benefits such as work-life balance were increasingly important to people, he said.

Diversiti Victoria general manager Paul Rowley said some billing and customer relationship management projects and specific roles in telecoms had required a global search for skills.

"For us, it has been technologies such as Siebel, SAP and billing technologies, where there is just not necessarily the local market there to supply it,” Mr Rowley said.

The Australian

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