Finders, keepers? Not always

March 1, 2000

By Karen Stadelmeier

As society lingers at the edge of becoming completely technocentric, the demand for technology far exceeds the supply of technology-enabling workers. The ideas, business plans, strategies, and money-lots and lots of money-all promise that businesses and consumers will transition into a digital dream world. But there is a shortage of employees to make it happen and a low retention rate to guarantee its maintenance.

Flex time, sabbaticals, profit sharing, stock options, continuing education, and the option to telecommute are just a few benefits that today's high-tech worker enjoys. The incentives are there, but high-tech companies are scrambling to find the right people and, once on board, dissuade them from taking the next opportunity that crosses their path. Even the most savvy technology companies aren't just re-evaluating their hot incentive programs, they are thinking up clever ways to attract, motivate, and retain existing top-notch high-tech professionals.

Take Fortune 500 Cisco's "Make a Friend @ Cisco" program. From Cisco's Website, curious candidates can specify what their job interests are within the organization and then be put in touch with a Cisco employee that has a comparable position. That way, the job seeker remains anonymous while learning first-hand what it's like to work at Cisco. And the employee buddy feels important and gains more loyalty to the corporation by staying involved in its successful hunt for the right recruits.

Tangential to that, many high-tech companies not only send their human resources people, but also some of their lead people to college career fairs all over the country. This approach allows key people to befriend potential employees, offering an added incentive to those who are either looking or already work there. Oftentimes, bonuses are issued to employees responsible for successful hires. Carlsbad, CA-based ViaSat is one such company following this path.

Initiatives like these empower employees by giving them a platform on which to tout the benefits of their current employer. This intricately involves them in the recruiting effort and corporate environment, making it more difficult for them to leave the company.

Other recruiting initiatives include branding the area that has job openings. San Diego's Economic Development Corporation formed the San Diego Tech Alliance to coin the city of San Diego as "technology's perfect climate." In an effort to attract young, talented engineers to San Diego, the group pooled their resources and put together a video with various engineers commenting on a typical day working and living in San Diego. The video, encompassing everything from surfing to digital signal processing, was released to college career centers all over the country. Thanks to the likes of Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson, Gateway, and SAIC, San Diego has also joined the high-tech wireless industry ranks and is sometimes referred to as Telecom Valley.

But San Diego is not the only community using this tactic. Much like Silicon Valley, other areas have branded their regions as high-tech meccas to attract tech types. New York's Silicon Alley, Raleigh's Research Triangle Park, and Richmond's Telecom Corridor are a few that have emerged in the past decade.

Service providers for the high-tech industry are experiencing the recruiting bottleneck, too. Lawyers, venture capitalists, bankers, accounting firms, marketing consultants, and other high-tech ancillary support professionals tend to have a core expertise in their own disciplines, but they increasingly require varying levels of technology expertise to adequately represent their high-tech clientele.

For example, at McQuerterGroup, we handle the marketing efforts for business-to-business clients in the wireless, telecom, e-commerce, and information-technology sectors. The challenge we face is finding people that understand technology as well as know integrated marketing-communications strategy. The need is to find people that are able to accurately tell a high-tech CEO's story and schematically understand how the company's technology fits within every market it will target.

Once hired, technology-savvy individuals are assigned to a division and corresponding account team that matches the particular technology area of the client. They propagate their strengths, both internally and externally, by furthering the marketing knowledge of the client base and operating internal workshops to develop their co-workers' technology understanding.

Like many organizations, McQuerterGroup also "grows its own" specialists by sending capable persons to seminars and workshops that will increase their technology awareness. We have also developed a highly defined 12-week internship program to give students a taste of both the high-tech and marketing life. Our interns are amazed at how much technology they absorb just by showing up. For that reason, we hire some of our most successful interns into entry-level positions and supplement their high-tech education through workshops, seminars, and attendance at industry events.

In an effort to attract employees, foster goodwill among current employees, and stay on the cutting edge, some associated marketing firms are trading employees. Time spent in a marketing shop in Japan is great exposure for an employee out of Silicon Valley, and vice versa. Both employees are exposed to a booming high-tech center, learn how another firm operates, and get a cultural life experience they will never forget.

Karen Stadelmeier is business-development manager for McQuerterGroup, a San Diego-based high-tech marketing-communications firm.

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