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For Love and Money

For Love and Money

Any British person is really showing their age if they can recall one of the hits of Adam Faith. Faith, a showbiz comet who came and went in the very early 1960s, was living proof that a great voice isn't necessary to make a fortune as a pop star. Still, his voice must have impressed me; I can tell you his most famous hit began: "What do you want if you don't want money?".

While I suspect he was singing about love, those words could equally apply to IT in the late 1990s. Over the last 12 years IDC Australia has asked organisations responding to its "Forecast for Management" survey to identify their investment in IT as a percentage of turnover. In 1986 the figure was 1.29 per cent; last year it grew to 2.51 per cent. It is clear that business has demonstrated significant enthusiasm for IT over quite a demanding economic period.

Yet, while IS executives may be getting more money, they are clearly not getting any satisfaction. Look at the meteoric rise in staff turnover in IS departments over the last five years. In 1992, 9.93 per cent of total IT staff departed the organisation in the previous 12 months. It has consistently gone up each year since then. Today it stands at 26.8 per cent - a rise of 152 per cent over this period.

Not all this movement is about money. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has charted IT salaries since 1988. It is conscious of the significant skill shortage in the IT profession. As a comparison, the ABS research charts IT professionals alongside electrical engineers and electrical trades people. Its skilled vacancy survey highlights that IT vacancies grew by 305 per cent over the last 10 years compared with 15 per cent for all professionals and a fall of 18 per cent for all skilled occupations. Yet IT salaries compared with the others remained relatively constant.

With IT staff being in such demand it perhaps pays to investigate ways to diminish this high rate of turnover. Recruitment firm Drake International provided some guidance in a recent edition of its Business Review. Drake examined the reasons for staff resignations. Its findings highlighted that these were largely to do with job fulfilment and expectations as well as career opportunities. Clearly staff want to know how they can embellish their career and, and without internal feedback, the grass obviously looks greener externally.

CIOs must be finding an inordinate amount of their time diverted from the business' needs by staff recruitment. However, recent research from the Department of Education provides some encouragement. It showed that higher education authorities have more than doubled the number of places available for IS courses in the last 10 years. As these graduates enter the workforce it is likely that the challenge of IS staff recruitment will diminish.

However, perhaps the real challenge for staff recruitment and retention is that CIOs need to think more laterally. A recent IDC (US) IT Advisor report suggests that there are many other areas that IS should consider for its recruits. Only 3 per cent of organisations in the US were prepared to hire non IS graduates and train them. Yet the report argued that disciplines as diverse as music, mathematics and librarianship all train their students in a logic that IS could harness. Moreover, those employees who had given such students a go were extremely positive about their experiences. Perhaps IT could be a more appropriate vocation than music for even old Adam Faith.

Peter Hind is the manager of User Programs, which includes InTEP, at IDC Australia

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