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IT veterans: Young workers not to blame for retention issues

IT veterans: Young workers not to blame for retention issues

IT professionals have strong opinions about the reasons behind today's IT hiring and retention challenges, but most don't think young, inexperienced workers are at the root of the problem.

"It seems that only with IT do you have this distorted logic. You want better workers? You have to pay more to get them or treat them better. If you want to keep people, you have to give people incentive to stay," one IT professional writes. "What is the industry's goal to complain about young IT workers?"

Scores of readers responded to Network World's recent article about how a majority of IT managers find Millennials -- workers aged between 18 and 31 -- pose the biggest management and retention challenge. Boston staffing firm Atlantic Associates conducted a survey and reported IT managers find young workers have unrealistic expectations of their workplace.

Many readers seem to disagree with the survey findings, however. IT veterans and newcomers alike say younger candidates are neither unrealistic nor unreasonable in their approach to securing a job. Rather, candidates entering the workforce are savvy enough to demand compensation on par with their skills, some say.

"Our kids now know their time will come when their services are no longer required. They are aware of the global economy," one veteran reader writes. "They know they must get theirs before someone tells them their time has run out. They see it happening to Mom and Dad every day."

Others imply widely publicized accounting scandals at high-profile companies such as Enron, Qwest and Worldcom have taught young workers to put their interests before those of their employers.

"I completely agree that the IT companies, or their rich executives and boards of directors to be more accurate, have ruined the IT careers of hundreds of thousands of my generation, the baby boomers. They have sold us out and trade us off like cattle," one industry vet reports. "These fat cats have their riches and destroyed any loyalty the workforce may have once had."

That comment touches on a not-so-distant past in which many experienced IT workers lost jobs following the dot-com bubble bursting and found themselves out of work for many months. Today's new crop of IT candidates could be very aware of how their predecessors were worked hard and dropped fast when businesses failed.

"I have to admire the attitude of the 18- to 31-year-old IT workers. I am 45 and have plenty of experience regarding how valuable we are when companies decide to downsize," writes one IT professional. "I wish I had the guts to have the attitude they have learned. You are only as valuable as the next company quarterly earnings reports. These new workers are not dumb. Why should they kill themselves for a company that probably [couldn't] care less about them?"

Some say they have witnessed the generation before them work hard with little reward.

"I grew up watching my father come home every night in total frustration. He survived layoff after layoff at an engineering company [and] saw lots of his friends, family go through really tough times. But the stress eventually killed him," one reader recalls. "His salary was a joke. I already started making more than him at the age of 28."

And others report that they have left companies to find an employer that rewards their hard work and loyalty with the same.

"I just wanted to know that the company was loyal to me, and that I was valuable to them and that they would take care of me even if business went south for a while. Not once did I feel the company was loyal to me," writes one 32-year-old IT security professional. "So I did just what this article indicates that many are doing. I left."

With demand increasing again, IT industry veterans say companies cannot expect to pay low wages for valuable skills. On the contrary, employers should plan to compete for the IT resources available today.

It's just good business "to sell your product at the best market rates. If demand is high and supply is tight, costs go up. Companies need to compete to attract and retain top talent," one reader comments. "You can't fault those selling their product (in this case their labor and expertise) to seek the best price possible -- both in terms of wages and work environment."

One young IT candidate argues that the climate for employees has changed significantly even in the last few years and his perception of an acceptable working wage and environment aligns with the financial realities of today.

"A few decades ago, a mechanic could afford a home, and be able to support his family comfortably (my grandfather was one such). Today, living in Seattle, me (24) and my fiancée (21) have a combined household income of over 80k, and if we can afford a house, it will be a terrible rundown one," the IT pro writes. "My grandfather bought his first home at age 22, and it wasn't half bad. I hope to have my first home by 30. This generation isn't disillusioned, we simply know what we are facing."

While many say IT managers have more unrealistic expectations than young employees, other readers' views are more in line with Atlantic Associates' survey findings.

IT candidates entering the workforce could learn a thing or two from their predecessors, some say. New hires need to learn the nature of the business to succeed in IT -- something that may be lacking in technical training courses.

"In a lot of cases, the 'real world' is such a shock, they jump jobs not understanding why the company won't bend to their needs, and skills, rather than the employee changing his skills to match the business requirements," one IT pro comments. "A little more business education and less hype could go a long way in this area.

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