Podcast Exerpt: Join Deanna Wise, PMP, executive vice president and chief information office at Dignity Health, formerly Catholic Healthcare West in San Francisco. As executive vice president and CIO, Wise oversees all of Dignity Health’s information technology functions with a focus on the 40-hospital system’s electronic medical records. Deanna has been in the information technology […]
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Whether you’re a programmer, Big Data analyst, or cybersecurity expert, your employer expects you to have the skills necessary to do your job. That means tech professionals must spend a lot of money in order to secure the schooling and certifications they need. And that can become an expensive proposition.
In many industries, companies will pay for employee training. In tech, however, that’s not always the case, and that can frustrate those professionals who feel they must constantly evolve in order to prove useful to the business.
According to Bob Hadick, president of Russ Hadick & Associates, a professional search and recruiting firm, tech employers expect their employees to live and breathe the job: “We find it easier to sell the guy or gal who shows a passion for the job by pursuing training on his or her own.”
Tech employers consider positions such as developer or software architect as more than a mere title. “It’s an identity,” Hadick added. With that in mind, companies often look for employees who are intellectually curious, not to mention willing to work on tech-related projects on their own time.
According to Carlos Pimenta, CEO of Macquarium, a digital experience design and marketing agency, the nature of the tech profession demands constant education on the part of workers. “A programming language is similar to a spoken language,” he said. “You can quickly learn enough to get by, but it takes a while to master.”
Given how building systems that drive business operations is a complex and expensive process, it’s often easier and quicker for companies to find the people with the necessary skills, rather than train the ones they have. “If you don’t have in-house experience in that version of the programming language, you will typically work with proven partners to satisfy the client need,” Pimenta said.
But you can still convince your employer to pay for training and certifications—provided you figure out the best way to spin the idea. Here’s how to broach the subject and sell it to your boss:
Realize the Value of Training
Before you bother to ask, make sure the training is something that your employer considers a relevant skill for the job. While companies want people who can do their job well, don’t try to pitch a certification that isn’t relevant to the job you currently perform or can’t help you get better at what you do, Hadick said.
Argue for Training the Whole Team
It might be easier to sell your boss on training the entire software development group and not just you, Hadick added. Suggest that training the team can impact the bottom line on the project or help move up the time to deployment. Pitch it in terms they can understand, but consider the time investment, too.
Help Your Manager Justify the Expense
Help your manager make the business case for training or certifications. Explain how the training will make an impact by filling a gap in a department need. If your employer is having a hard time recruiting the right people with the right skills, he or she might be more amenable to training current staff. Pimenta thinks the company’s decision will not only be influenced by business need, but also by the cost, timing, and ROI.
Alleviate Your Employer’s Fear That You’re Jumping Ship
Your boss may think you’re amping up your skills in order to find a new job. According to Hadick, it’s best to explain to your employer how a new training program or certification is specifically relevant to what you do and how it will improve your performance.
Do Your Homework Before Accepting a Job Offer
Corporate culture can be hard to change, and that includes getting an employer to pay for certifications when they aren’t accustomed to doing so. While tech companies that routinely pay for training are still relatively rare, there are tech employers out there who know its value. It pays to ask around and network with your tech friends to find out which organizations will pay for courses.
When you’re interviewing for a position, don’t forget to ask about the company’s training initiatives. Pitch it to the potential employer as a potential perk of the job.
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While the demand for full-time technology professionals continues unabated, a number of employers are attempting to expand their pipelines in a way that’s not only counterintuitive but seems to be yielding limited results: they’re increasing their emphasis on contract-to-hire positions, trying to turn temporary employees into full-time staff.
Recruiters say the strategy stems from a variety of factors. First, few candidates are interested in entry-level jobs as help desk or field technicians, so more contractors are filling those roles. In addition, some HR people believe offering contract-to-hire positions is an effective way to expand the candidate pool. Finally, contract-to-hire can often put tech pros to work for a company immediately, even if a hiring manager is hard-pressed to get new full-time headcount approved.
Still, most recruiters aren’t sold on the practice. “The reality is it doesn’t open up the candidate pool that much,” observed Chris Mitchell, principal in the technology contract staffing practice at recruiter WinterWyman in Waltham, Mass. For one thing, it’s a candidate’s market right now, which means the idea of having to work under contract in order to secure a full-time job isn’t appealing to tech pros who have plenty of opportunities to sign up with another employer.
“There are two types of candidates,” noted Ben Hicks, partner in WinterWyman’s software technology search practice. “People who’ve always been full-time, who this would be risky for and not attractive. The others are contractors who like contracting. They don’t want to go full-time.”
When It Can Work
Of course, there are times when contract-to-hire makes sense, though many of them are about addressing less-than-ideal situations.
For example, many technology employers struggle to meet salary offers that are relatively high, suggested Doug Paulo, Detroit-based vice president and IT product leader of staffing firm Kelly IT Resources. Offering a contract-to-hire position allows them to bring someone in at a higher contractor’s rate, immerse them in the organization’s technology and culture, then try to convince them to accept a lower salary but perhaps better benefits.
The approach can work, Paulo noted, as long as the company offers a strong culture and pays attention to softer factors, like employee engagement. Employers who expect their workers to shut up and code may not have much success.
For managers having difficulty getting new full-time slots approved, the approach can help them make the case for hiring a particular candidate. After a project is completed successfully, they can make stronger arguments for bringing onboard the contractors involved, Paulo explained. And startups often hire contractors to keep their tech efforts going even as they’re raising money and building revenue, again with the hope that they’ll be able to convert the contractors to full-time when their initial projects are done.
What Candidates Think
From the candidate’s point of view, there are instances where contract-to-hire can be attractive. For example, Hicks thinks such positions can fit the needs of tech pros who left one job before lining up another. Or they could lead to full-time employment for people whose skills that may not be in high demand in their particular region of the country. Those candidates, Paulo observed, have fewer ideal options at a time when many companies don’t want to risk making a bad hire.
Also, contract-to-hire can provide a doorway into a company the candidate has in their sights, even though they don’t meet the requirements for the job they really want. If they do well as a contractor and are smart about their networking within the organization, they may be able to land a full-time role more suited to their background.
How to Convince Candidates
So what do you say to leery candidates who like the company but want to skip the contract part of the process? If they’ve got the right skills, they certainly know they’re the objects of many employers’ affections. Here’s some things to consider, and some arguments you can make.
- Remember that contract-to-hire isn’t right for everyone. As Hicks said, candidates who regard themselves as full-time workers probably won’t entertain the idea.
- Tailor your pitch to the candidate’s individual situation. If they want to break into a new industry or get experience with a new technology, a contract-to-hire assignment can give them the exposure they need to begin building their reputation among the right hiring managers. At the minimum, it will give them something pertinent to put on their resume.
- Contract-to-hire positions can be a good way to try out a new region or an employer the candidate is intrigued by but not sold on. During the months of their contract, they’ll be immersed in the company’s culture and will see firsthand how it approaches technology, not to mention the workforce. Whether they decide to stay or not, they’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
- It can provide an entry point for tech pros whose skills may not be polished or up-to-date, or who are (frankly) less talented. Some recruiters think companies emphasize contract-to-hire positions when they feel the need to lower their standards in order fill a role.
Sometimes contract-to-hire can result in a match that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
There’s no doubt that tech pros with security expertise are highly sought after. Yet in the face of that demand, it seems that schools are having a hard time producing enough graduates to fill open security jobs.
A new study of 121 university programs, conducted by an independent consultant contracted by cloud-based security provider CloudPassage, found that not one of the top ten U.S. computer-science programs (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2015) requires a single cybersecurity course for graduation. In fact, only one of the top 36 U.S. computer-science programs demands such a course (for those keeping score at home, that’s the computer-science program at the University of Michigan).
CloudPassage CEO Robert Thomas suggested that, when you consider how cyber-attacks are driven more by organized crime and hostile governments armed with sophisticated tools and lots of funding, the average IT organization is operating at a distinct disadvantage. “All you hear over and over again is how many open security position there are… Frankly, it’s only going to get worse.”
The U.S government alone is looking to hire 1,000 IT security workers by the end of June. Not only are such professionals hard to find—the government isn’t generally competitive when it comes to salaries. As a result, some pundits doubt that federal agencies will achieve that hiring goal.
Christopher Key, CEO of Verodin, a security start-up focused on automating the testing of security defenses, thinks it’s hard for IT security professionals to keep up with the latest trends, never mind universities and IT generalists. “We think organizations need to first think more about the effectiveness of the money they already spend on security,” he said. “They need to measure if they are actually getting better at providing IT security.”
The bigger issue is to what degree IT security issues have dampened the willingness of organizations to launch new digital initiatives. While becoming a “digital business” is clearly all the rage these days, there’s a lot security risk associated with such projects.
Greg Richey, director of professional services for Ingram Micro, an IT distributor that provides support for thousands of small to midsize IT services providers, hasn’t seen a slowdown in the number of projects launched to deal with potential vulnerabilities. The issue isn’t the number of security professionals, he thinks; it’s the quality.
“I can find plenty of IT security people,” he added. “Finding good IT security people is another matter.”
In the absence of well-qualified IT security professionals, there’s a lot of interest in IT security automation. That means the use of machine learning algorithms and other forms of artificial intelligence; PatternX, for example, uses A.I. to provide “virtual security analysts” that eliminate many of the lower-level tasks that human security analysts perform manually. But someone still needs to make sense of all those security reports to determine the true nature of a particular threat.
In the meantime, any tech professional who wants to expand the scope of their IT security skillset must commit to continuous education. The threats that need to be addressed evolve on a weekly basis, both in sophistication and lethality. It’s not a job segment for the faint of heart.