IT professionals are ambitious – but how can employers nurture this?

IT professionals remain high in demand across the UK as employers compete for top talent in a skill short market. For employers across all industries it’s an important time to be aware of what factors they currently use to differentiate themselves from their competitors, in order to keep staff engaged and motivated, and indeed attract new talent.    

Findings from our new report, What Workers Want, revealed that whilst ambition is high amongst IT professionals, higher than the average UK worker, nearly half (48%) admitted they are looking for a new job as over a third are dissatisfied with their current role.    

The report also looked at the factors that influence an employee’s decision to move jobs or stay with their current organisation. Whilst pay influences 43% of an employee’s decision to move roles, over half (57%) is focused on the other factors of culture, career progression and benefits so employers need to consider the complete package they are offering.  

It goes without saying that most IT workers are eager to continuously and consistently upskill and challenge themselves to stay ahead of the ever-changing technology curve and there are steps for both employers and employees to take in order to nurture this ambition:    

1. Employers must develop training routes    

By its nature – the landscape in which IT professionals operate is ever-evolving. New skills are required in order to keep up with the rapidly changing trends of the industry, and working with the latest technology is vital for IT professionals to maintain and grow these. Their eagerness to avoid working with legacy technology is evidenced by the fact that 40% of IT professionals hope for a more challenging role in their next job. Cloud and infrastructure professionals were the most likely to want a more challenging role in their new job, with 46% stating this, 11% higher than the national average.  

As part of this drive to stay challenged, IT employers should offer progressive training opportunities that will allow their staff to maintain their technical skillsets. There is currently a mismatch between what training support IT professionals want, and what they receive. For example, 80% of IT professionals would like to receive third party training, but only 45% say they currently receive this.  

As such, professionals in the sector recognise that continual learning is important in order to stay abreast of the latest technological changes. IT professionals will appreciate the opportunity to take advantage of training which they would not have access to online, and stay engaged with their roles. 

2. Career paths shouldn’t be one dimensional    

Encouragingly, a quarter of IT professionals expressed desires to reach C-suite positions, higher than the average of 21%. For those who want to reach this level of seniority, it’s important for employees to develop a clear career roadmap so they know where they want to go, and how their employer can help them achieve this.    

Most IT professionals believe they are highly ambitious. Ambition was highest amongst development and testing professionals, with 85% describing themselves as such. This was followed by Cloud and infrastructure professionals at 84%, and then leadership, projects and change management at 81%. However, this ambition must not be confused with a desire for linear career progression, as seniority level is not important to all and some professionals will place a higher importance on training and the development of their skills.  

In turn, employers need to ensure that the unique goals of their staff are mapped out, and that for those wanting to reach leadership level, clear support and guidance should be provided. This may mean exposing a professional to cross-functional work in change management, or coaching on how to improve stakeholder management and commercial understanding. In so doing, you will be exposing your employees to challenges beyond working with the latest technology – namely the honing of their soft skills with the goal of moving up the career ladder. 

3. Understand why employees might be moving    

As a number of workers within the industry admit to being dissatisfied, employers must be mindful of the factors that are likely to tempt them to a new role, aside from salary. Improved work-life balance was rated as the top factor after salary, as a temptation to change jobs.    

This isn’t surprising, as close to half (47%) rated their work-life balance as poor, or terrible, with nearly two-thirds (64%) saying they would be attracted to work for an organisation that restricts out of hours working such as taking calls or answering emails, in a bid to improve work-life balance.    

In addition to this, 85% of cloud and infrastructure professionals look for flexible working policies when considering a new role, and 90% of testing and development professionals do so. The IT professionals who are most likely to look for flexible working are leadership, projects and change management professionals, 92% of whom look for this. Flexible working is a means to addressing some of the concerns around work-life balance.  

With this in mind, it’s important for employers to recognise the signals if employee’s are struggling to manage workloads, to avoid the risk of losing talented professionals in a skill-short market. This also can relate to an organisation’s culture, which is intrinsic to work-life balance, as staff need to be able to have the confidence to approach managers if they have a problem, and equally feel comfortable to take time off when they need to.    

4. Pay is a motivator, but it shouldn’t be relied upon    

61% say their job search is focused on securing a higher salary. However, employers need to think beyond pay packets in order to continue attracting top talent in a skills-short market.    

Whilst 46% of workers in the industry reported finding bonuses motivating, over half (54%) said they found them either de-motivating or that they had no impact, suggesting not all employees are driven by financial incentives, and ambition shouldn’t be nurtured on this solely.    

Additionally, pay was shown to be less of a driving force for IT professionals than other professions, demonstrating that employers should take a tailored approach when considering how best to attract and retain talent from different professions. There is also room for negotiation, as 63% of IT professionals stated they would consider taking a pay cut in order to achieve everything else that was important to them.   

Continuous development and communication is key to nurture ambition   

Our results indicate workers want to be able to make an impact on an organisation, and positively they are prioritising professional development to help them achieve this. For employers, taking the aspects of training, transparent career paths, culture and work-life balance into play, and communicating these well, is important to attracting and retaining staff in the sector.  

Of course, when it comes to building effective attraction and retention policies, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. What workers want varies according to their age, seniority level and even gender. Wherever possible, it is necessary to tailor your pay, benefits, culture and career progression offerings according to the needs of the individual which will in turn better nurture ambition and loyalty. 

James Milligan, Managing Director of Hays IT 

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