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The good news and bad news on IT recruiting

Solution providers need to recruit, develop and create new skills to meet customer demand in the future

When it comes to acquiring talent it’s a good news; bad news scenario for the channel community.

According to Cisco Systems’ bi-annual partner talent survey, a whopping 92.8 per cent of partners surveyed in Canada and the U.S. expect to grow their business despite the poor economy. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the channel is desperate for help in keep up with the demand of the marketplace for advanced technology solutions such as unified communications, wireless solutions, data centre solutions and security.

How the channel addresses the investment in talent continues to amaze Celia Harper Guerra, senior director, partner talent, worldwide channels for Cisco.

She said the about 78 per cent of the channel partners surveyed are hiring today and they find the process hard. Harper-Guerra added that roughly 76 per cent of those polled will still be in talent acquisition mode the following year.

“To understand this you have to look at today’s economy. Unemployment is at 11 per cent, which is an all time high for the U.S., (Canada’s unemployment rate is at 8.6 per cent) but IT talent bucks that trend and partners currently are going after passive talent that is sitting at a competitor and they try to lure them in and that’s difficult,” Harper-Guerra said.

Margarita Berman, director of recruiting for Force 3, a Cisco gold partner based in Annapolis, Md., said the challenge her company struggles with is finding people with a niche skill set. Since Force 3’s primary customers are in government employees require clearance. “Individuals that have clearance on top of that niche skill are hard to find. We have a lot of positions for projects with clearance from secret and top secret since we play with the NSA (National Security Agency),” she said.

What Force 3 is doing is developing employees from within the organization by taking junior engineers and mentoring them with senior engineers in an apprenticeship program.

One of the key takeaways from the bi-annual survey is development, Harper-Guerra said. About 84 per cent of the survey respondents said they are heavily investing in developing existing employees and newly hired staff.

“There is an equal amount of importance now put on soft-skills and technical training for the first time. Partners need to get someone certified, while also able to do solution selling. That kind of business acumen is needed in organizations today,” Harper-Guerra said.

In terms of development at Compugen, Andrew Stewart, vice-president of corporate services and marketing for the Toronto-based solution provider, said that the company made an investment in coaching and team building.

According to him, the organization believes it’s essential to build capabilities outside the classroom setting. The coaching program has led to greater collaboration across all parts of Compugen’s nationwide business. “People are working effectively regardless of reporting structures and there is a greater sense of collaboration with customers because they become an extension to the customer team,” he said.

Social networking is being used by the channel community as a referral system for recruitment.

Stewart said that social networking tools such as Linkedin has brought about an evolution to referral-based recruiting. “A lot of recruiting is done on Linkedin for personal hiring and it is changing the balance of power from the HR department to the hiring manager because it is broadening the reach for that manager,” Stewart said.

Ann Marr, vice-president of human resources at World wide Technology Inc., a St. Louis, Mo.-based Cisco gold partner, also uses Linkedin calling it a great source for the company to find candidates.

Stewart added that Compugen has seen good success with Linkedin and conducting experiments with another social networking phenomenon: Twitter.

Berman said that her company has used Facebook to launch a sales academy program for entry level individuals in IT sales. “We did a huge campaign with Facebook and we got several candidates with it,” Berman said.

Another important aspect is architectural plays, Harper-Guerra said. Solution providers need to connect the dots on diversification of skills especially in Web 2.0 or the borderless network. New skills need to be created such as coders and apps engineers. “What key competencies do partners need? Do they buy it or layer it on top of what they have now,” Harper-Guerra said.