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Is it worthwhile hiring junior IT staff?

Should you employ technologists with very limited experience? And if you do, how much should you be paying them?

The post-GFC economic climate is still volatile, which is forcing many organisations to cut right back on new staff hires and make do with their existing roster. This is particularly true for IT departments, with 2013 shaping up to be a slow year for the IT recruitment market, with minimal hiring.

Consequently, CIOs could be forgiven for baulking at hiring new technologists, particularly those who are highly experienced, yet expensive. This could mean they are left with a pool of middle or senior-level IT people to choose from when it's time to hire new staff. These mid-level IT people – with a track record of experience – may be currently contracting or searching for a new job.

But is it worthwhile also looking for entry-level technologists with limited experience and lower salary demands, particularly if IT budgets are tight?

Bridget Gray, managing director at IT recruitment firm Harvey Nash Australia, says it is challenging for any CIO to fill a junior role as it is difficult to identify an appropriate candidate from a CV with little or no experience.

“Taking a risk on hiring a new member of staff is not easy to do, especially when a CIO is trying to recruit for someone that can actually perform a day-to-day role, has the ability to learn and grow with the business and someone who is culturally aligned to the company,” says Gray.

Related: Is there really a skills shortage?

However, investing in junior staff does have it benefits, particularly around staff retention. According to Gray, because junior candidates earn lower salaries, the uplift they may experience when moving to another role is minimal.

“Therefore, they rarely move to another role to earn more money; their motivations will be around learning new skills, gaining more experience, stability and perhaps an increase in responsibilities,” says Gray.

How much should you pay junior staff?

Gray says CIOs need to make sure they have the best possible talent pool of junior staff to choose from, particularly as appointing a junior candidate is harder than more senior staff due to their lack of experience and overall competency levels.

“By paying market rate or higher, you remove the financial barrier that may stop some candidates from applying for the role,” says Gray.

“A strong benchmark is a $50,000 base salary with superannuation and other benefits on top and when interviewing junior staff, it is imperative that you discover their motivations and own personal circumstances so that you can better tailor and articulate your offering to them as an individual.”

The Australian Computer Society’s 2012 Remuneration Survey Report, provides a more comprehensive picture. Here’s a list of base salary ranges for junior staff with zero to three years’ experience (for all market sectors).

  • ICT consultant – between $50,000 and $75,000

  • ICT business analyst – between $47,500 and $65,250

  • Analyst/programmer – between $40,000 and $59,000

  • Developer/programmer – between $45,000 and $70,000

  • Software engineer – between $50,000 and $80,000

  • ICT support technician – $40,000 to $60,000

  • Other (all sectors) – $36,000 to $72,000

There was modest growth in junior salaries in these fields of IT between 2011 and 2012. For example, the top 10 per cent of junior ICT consultants were being paid $70,000 in 2011 (compared to $75,000 this year) while top junior developers and programmers were paid $68,000 (compared to $70,000 this year).

According to Gray, how much of a role salary plays in attracting and retaining junior staff depends on individuals' personal circumstances and motivations.

“A junior technologist with minimal financial obligations will focus more on the long-term opportunity of a role, the person they would be working for and their own career aspirations when choosing whether or not to apply and interview for a role.

“On the other hand, junior technologists with financial obligations will need to ensure they are earning the market rate for any role they apply for.”

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