Overcoming The IT Labor Shortage

Retaining skilled IT employees is difficult, especially for small companies. Cross-training can help.

Georgia Rittenberg

November 8, 2016

4 Min Read
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If you’re looking for a job right now, you’re in luck. The job market is hot, particularly in the technology sector. For employers, especially smaller firms, this also means that attracting and retaining skilled IT employees is more challenging than ever and reducing churn – always important – is now an urgent priority.

With companies spending so much time and energy searching for the right talent, it’s imperative that they work hard to keep employees once they’re in the door. But offering a competitive salary and benefits is just a starting point. By establishing a robust training process that gives employees upward mobility and broadens their skill sets, companies can not only improve retention, but increase the quality and productivity of their staff.

Training builds consistency

Talk to any business owner or executive, and they’ll likely tell you that offering consistent, reliable customer service is always a major challenge. Customers like to know what to expect when they deal with a service provider, so it’s essential to have knowledgeable, responsive people as the primary point of contact. That takes training.

However, consistency is important. By training all employees to follow the same procedures and processes, companies can establish and measure performance benchmarks to identify strengths and address weaknesses. For a technology services business like ours, this kind of training means that we can confidently send any technician to a customer site with the expectation that, for instance, a repair will be handled in a specific way with a predictable result. That consistency gives customers confidence in our services, and ensures that they’ll be happy with our work.

Companies often shy away from training because they fear that it will be costly and time consuming. That’s not always the case. As an authorized warranty-service provider for several leading brands, we have to ensure that our technicians are trained to handle repairs for a wide range of devices. But as with many companies, the majority of our training can be carried out on-the-job, so the cost is relatively low. We have access to manufacturer-supplied manuals and tests to keep our technicians up-to-date with the latest devices, diagnostics, and repair techniques.

Companies should also consider the impact of losing a skilled employee when thinking about training costs. For an organization of our size, where we carry out thousands of device repairs in any given month, the productivity loss caused by replacing a single technician equates to tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Most of that is due to the time it takes for a new technician to get up to speed, which is typically six to 12 weeks.

Cross-training benefits

For a small to midsize enterprise, training can be a way to overcome the labor shortage. With cross-training, an employee who is eager to learn can acquire new skills and explore new roles anywhere within the company.

In our case, we’ve built a nimble team with transferrable skills, a quality that I often see mirrored in other successful small companies. Technicians can handle device repairs for every device across all of our OEMs, and customer service representatives are able to handle tasks like verification of device warranty status prior to the diagnostics phase with a technician. We’ve learned that teaching new skills to people is far easier than correcting bad habits picked up elsewhere. It may take more time, but it creates a higher quality employee who is engaged and worth his or her weight in gold.

In today’s economy, companies that want to build a better team should look beyond a candidate’s work experience. It’s important to consider the more intangible aspects of a person’s character, such as eagerness. I would much rather hire someone who is slightly less qualified but who demonstrates an aptitude for the role. For instance, when one of our delivery drivers showed an interest in learning about repair service, we gave him the opportunity to earn the necessary qualifications, and he is showing great potential as a technician.

Having every staff member cross-trained in other functions allows the company to pick up any slack without skipping a beat. It’s a vital part of being a smaller operation, and, in my experience, results in a company that fosters flexibility, loyalty, and upward mobility for employees. It also helps us win in the marketplace.

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