How to keep top IT talent when competitors offer more

The latest data shows that hiring is picking up for employees with tech skills. That’s good news for staffers, but it could leave IT departments scrambling as their best workers jump ship for new opportunities.

According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May, there were 4,009,900 active IT jobs in the U.S. That was the highest number since November of 2008 and came after 16 straight months of increases.

And in a recent survey conducted by IT job board, 65% of companies said they planned to do more hiring in the second half of this year than in the first half, with 47% saying increased competition for IT talent has raised starting salaries for those positions.

Now it’s up to IT managers and their companies to hang on to their best staffers as they get more opportunities to change employers.

One of the first steps to keeping potential retention problems at bay should be to look at salaries and other compensation to make sure they still compare favorably to what your competitors for talent offer.

The trouble, of course, is that many companies may not be able to afford significant salary increases for all of their current employees.

So here are some other steps IT managers should take to hang on to their best staffers:

  1. Prioritize — A managers’ goal shouldn’t just be to make sure no one leaves the company — it should be to make sure the right people stay. That means prioritizing retention efforts to focus on the IT department’s best employees, people with particular skills the company needs and folks that will be most likely to get offers from other employers. That latter group includes IT workers knowledgeable in Java, web development, cloud computing and general business strategy, which studies show are the most in-demand skills for IT employees now.
  2. Offer benefits besides money — In many cases, being creative with perks pays off for companies. For example, in a recent survey, 35% of IT employees said they would give up 10% of their salary for an opportunity to work from home full-time. To hang on to your best workers without the budget for raises, find out what non-monetary benefits they want.
  3. Shake things up — The best IT employees are hardworking and don’t mind putting time into their jobs — as long as it’s work they’re interested in. But even the most committed employees can start to get worn out after doing the same type of work day in and day out. To avoid that, give your best employees a chance to work on different projects. That will also help increase the skill sets of your best people, which is a win for the department and the company.
  4. Show them their work matters — All employees want to see that what they’re doing is making an impact — but that can be especially tough for workers in IT, which is often seen by some areas of the company as not much of a strategic partner. But recognition from the manager will boost staffers’ motivation and loyalty — and the effect could be even greater if you get managers and execs from other parts of the company to personally recognize your team’s efforts, too.
  5. Help employees reduce stress — One of the biggest reasons IT workers are looking for other jobs is that a long stretch spent working through a rough economy has made them stressed out in their current jobs. There are many ways managers can help their employees reduce stress, from encouraging people to take time off to offering tips on how to better manage workloads.

Another challenge IT departments have begun facing is finding new employees. One tactic experts recommend is building up relationships with colleges and universities by offering internships and training programs, giving the company access to a new pool of potential candidates early on.