HR in the IT sector: the main challenges

The past three years have seen a complete about-turn in the fortunes of many IT professionals. Some figures suggest up to 100,000 of them have lost their jobs during the downturn, and recent research conducted by one technology firm found just 3% of UK businesses plan to replace IT staff in the next 12 months. Despite this, there is still an IT skills shortage. Experts told Personnel Today there is still a desperate shortage of staff with specific skills, and salaries are increasing in those areas – despite the recession. So what are the key challenges for HR professionals looking to attract and retain the best IT staff in 2010? Sally Whittle reports.

Setting salaries

IT salaries have been frozen during the recession at almost every level, says Barry Hoffman, HR director at technology company Computacenter. There are now some small signs of a thaw, says Hoffman, with recent increases of 1% or less. “Staff have been very understanding, recognising that long-term job security is at the heart of our pay strategy,” he says.

Salaries are down for both permanent and contractor roles, says Maggie Berry, managing director of Women in Technology. “We have seen a lot of employers ask employees to work nine-day fortnights or take sabbaticals to avoid redundancies,” Berry says. “It’s only been in the last quarter that we’ve seen any upward trend, and that’s not to say it won’t go down again.”

So what can employers do if salary increases aren’t an option? IT services company ITRM is based 20 minutes outside London, and the company has always been aware its IT staff could earn more money if they commute to the capital. “What that’s taught us is to focus on what we can offer in place of that extra 5% salary – which is flexibility, enhanced responsibility and the opportunity to work on a range of projects,” says HR director Wendy Read.


You might think the recession means there is a massive pool of available candidates vying for IT jobs, but that’s not necessarily true, says Ashley Rice, a director with recruitment firm Hays IT. “In the past two years, there has been a shortage of candidates with certain skills, specifically development technologies such as Java and .Net,” he says. “It’s common for someone with good experience to be fielding five job offers, while someone with project management experience is more likely to struggle.”

Despite job losses, most companies have been shrewd in retaining their best people, adds Read. “What we have found is that if we advertise a vacancy, only 10% of the CVs submitted will demonstrate the skills we have asked for, and we get hundreds of applications. It is still hard to recruit people with the right mix of skills.”

Dealing with hundreds of applications can be a challenge in itself, says Hoffman. “Managers are busier than ever in 2010, and taking the time to attract and select the right candidates from a larger pool of jobseekers is becoming tougher for everyone,” he says.

Attracting the best people in this environment means focusing on issues such as work-life balance and, crucially, the opportunity to work on bigger and better projects, says Charlie Johnston, HR director at technology firm Cisco. “We are seeing a lot more competition in the recruitment process and a number of our competitors are hiring, so we focus on creating a company where people want to work.”


Given this intense competition for skilled workers, employers are working hard to create environments where workers feel valued. At Cisco, the company has created an employee benefits portal, not to encourage people to change benefits, but to illustrate the value of what they already have, says Johnston.

The company focuses on ongoing professional development, including programmes where IT professionals can spend time on projects outside their normal department. “Those sorts of things make this an exciting place to work, and people value them, without being a big expense to the company,” says Johnston.

At consulting firm Atos Origin, reward and recognition is at the heart of HR strategy, says Andrew Kinder, a chartered occupational psychologist working on the firm’s Wellbeing programme. “One of the things we’ve done is to create a new system called Fish, where IT workers are encouraged to brainstorm ideas. The best ideas are picked up by the global team, and there’s a lot of recognition in that process,” Kinder says.

2010 IT salaries

Pay rises for computer staff were subdued over the past year as employers suffered the continuing effects of the recession, according to the XpertHR Salary Surveys Computer Staff Salary Survey.

According to the June 2010 report, in the 12 months to 1 April 2010, basic pay rose by an average 1.8%, and basic pay plus bonuses rose by 2.7%.

The latest data shows basic pay rises have continued to weaken, falling from an average 3.1% in June 2009 to 2.2% in December 2009 to 1.8% now. But taking account of bonuses, take-home pay has shown a slight upturn, falling from an average 3.6% in June 2009 to 1.2% in December 2009 and now picking up to a figure of 2.7%.

Salary figures show the median basic pay for an IT director now stands at £115,000, with the equivalent figures for project managers at £46,220 and analysts at £29,539.

The report is based on anonymised payroll data supplied by 226 organisations on 59,737 individual employees.

Source: XpertHR

The company is in the process of a massive reinvention programme, including a new head office in Paris, which will feature cafés, chill-out areas and cutting-edge technologies. This will help the company attract Generation-Y workers, Kinder says, who place a high value on new ideas and new projects, and expect to be integrated with colleagues at every level of the organisation.


There has been a significant increase in contractors over the past three years, as many IT professionals have set up independently after losing jobs, says Rice. “What we have seen, though, is that rates are lower, and there’s a lot more competition,” he adds. Despite this, demand for contractors has remained steady, Rice says, in part because for many companies they are a quick way to find extra resources even if there is a hiring freeze in place.

To make the most out of contractors, it’s important to invest time in making them part of the team, advises Wendy Read. “We have a four-week induction programme for new IT staff and we’ve created a one-week version for contractors, to ensure they know what will be expected of them,” she says. “We also invite contractors to corporate events and social gatherings, because that’s where a lot of informal networking happens, and we benefit if everyone is part of that.”

Employee health

The experts agree the notion of IT workers being stuck in a dark cupboard in a corner of the building is outdated. “Very few of our staff are desk-bound, as most will spend a lot of their time visiting people, checking on systems, attending meetings and so on,” says Kinder. “For us, the threats to wellbeing are more about stress and burn-out, as IT can be a stressful industry because of the constant change, and the new ways of working – particularly for older employees.”

Atos Origin has invested heavily in training for managers, to help them identify the signs of stress or burn-out, and to respond appropriately. “Ideally, you need a manager who will recognise the signs and will be supportive, but then signpost the help available to the employee, rather than trying to solve all their problems,” says Kinder.

At Cisco, employees have access to an employee assistance programme, but there are also a range of corporate sports teams linked to local charities, to encourage staff to be physically and mentally healthy, says Hoffman. “I don’t think it’s an IT specific issue any more – we would want all of our staff to remain active and healthy.”

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