Forum to tackle retaining tech talent meets in Pittsburgh

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With the region churning out tech talent by the thousands each semester, it would seem local companies are in position to woo top choices before they've even walked across a stage at graduation.

But between national recruiters fishing in Pittsburgh's talent pool and graduates aiming strictly for companies with Google-like amounts of flexibility, fun and finances, attracting and retaining tech workers has been more of an uphill battle than expected.

"Pittsburgh, in particular the tech sector, is going through a massive hiring spree, but the culture still has a lot of catching up to do," said Justin Driscoll, Pittsburgh Technology Council's director of STEM talent acquisition.

Pittsburgh Technology Council, the Pittsburgh Human Resources Association and the HR Leadership Forum of Western Pennsylvania will put the issue on the table during the next Strategic Talent Management Speaker Series session, "Winning the Talent War."

Mr. Driscoll said the ongoing speaker series has heard from human resources professionals from some of the largest companies in the city over the years, and a prevailing complaint has been how difficult it is to fill IT and other computer professional positions.

Although the problem isn't strictly limited to Western Pennsylvania -- demand for IT professionals in 2012 was up 34 percent nationally compared to the previous year, according to Quebec City, Canada-based Wanted Technologies -- some local difficulties can be attributed to regional attitudes toward workplace culture, said Columbus Brooks, a Pittsburgh Human Resources Association board member.

Mr. Brooks, a human resources consultant with Hill District-based Urban Innovation 21, said he often comes across tech workers who bemoan the "old-school" culture where workers are expected to punch in at 9 a.m. with a suit and tie, regardless of their responsibilities.

"To keep young talent here, companies are going to have to change how they manage them," Mr. Brooks said. "The current generation wants to 'work to live' while Generation X has more of an attitude to 'live to work.' "

He said law firms, financial institutions and other places with by-the-book corporate cultures should take a step back when it comes to scheduling, dress codes and even decor within their IT departments.

Another angle that Pittsburgh companies aren't taking advantage of when recruiting is offering incentives beyond cash.

Amylyn Kyler, vice president of people management with Claysville-based firm Newton Consulting, said some major accounting firms such as Deloitte or Ernst & Young recruit through undergraduate internships that continue annually through a students' masters program.

However, she said, the most common method was throwing as much bonus money as a budget allows at candidates. Ms. Kyler will be a featured panelist during the "Winning the Talent War" session.

With companies such as Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based video game company Red 5 Studios wooing top candidates with personalized iPods featuring recorded messages from the CEO, local companies are going to have to think outside of the box to compete.

"Nowadays, high pay and bonuses has to be combined with other offerings," Ms. Kyler said.

Beyond incentives, the most important factor that will bring tech workers to any company is being a place that takes flexibility and opportunity equally serious, Ms. Kyler said. "Make it a great place to work," she said.

"We're past the days when IT professionals would be locked in a room and we would throw them some food and they would just code all day. People want to work with other people like them who enjoy going to work every day and making an impact."

Ms. Kyler said local firms should start making those changes soon or risk losing candidates to Pittsburgh firms that have been willing to adjust.

She said one client in the city recently hired more than 400 professionals at positions ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 per year and that number should only grow since the company has a high number of employees near retirement. Demand is particularly high for app developers, Web developers and mobile developers, and should remain at a high level for the foreseeable future.

Since just about every company has a need for computer professionals in one position or another, Mr. Driscoll said it's up to each one to convince candidates their organization offers the lifestyle that candidates hoped for when entering the field.

"A lot of next-generation tech workers plan to work for a place like Google, but Google can't hire everybody," he said.

The Strategic Talent Management Speaker Series session "Winning the Talent War" is sponsored by Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and Highmark. The session will take place Thursday from 7 to 9:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Station Square. Visit http://webportal.pghtech.org/Events/CalendarEventsListView.aspx to register.

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Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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