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Why MSPs should take a more ‘creative’ approach to hiring

Just in case you have not experienced this directly yourself – it’s official: demand for tech talent will keep the labour market tight through 2019, according to the newly released CompTIA IT Industry Outlook 2019. 

CompTIA research reports that nearly 4 in 10 US tech firms have job openings and are actively recruiting candidates for technical positions. There appear to be two main drivers: expansion and the need for new skills in areas such as machine learning, AI and data analytics.

Staff churn is a further factor. Quite apart from the inevitable losses caused by retirement and relocation, CompTIA suggests that, given the strong economy with low unemployment rates, people today are more confident about exploring options elsewhere.

And it’s not just the technical side that’s feeling the pinch. Good ‘business’ people (project managers, market specialists, sales engineers and so on) are also thin on the ground, according to CompTIA’s  respondents.

Then, with lots of firms competing for the same skills, wage costs can be driven up, making it even more difficult for MSPs with relatively modest budgets to attract the people they need.

It’s time to take a more ‘creative’ approach to hiring, according to the CompTIA outlook report. We summarise their suggestions – and throw in some ideas of our own, to see what this means in practice – not just in terms of hiring new people but ensuring you retain them too.

1. Be more flexible at entry level

In the US, big tech companies like Apple, Google and IBM are apparently dispensing with the requirement for candidates to have a four-year college degree for many roles, including some technical roles. It’s not about lowering the bar in quality terms – more about recognising that there are other ways to acquire technical skills: through self-learning, community college and on the job training, for example.

Follow the big tech approach and you could widen your applicant pool to catch people who have taken a less conventional career path to date, but nevertheless have had IT training, acquired some certifications and gained valuable on the job experience. They may also have stronger ‘soft skills’ through experience gained in previous roles.

2. Consider ‘growing your own’

Where you need additional resources in the newer, in-demand areas, there is always the option to retrain existing employees through certification and professional development. CompTIA points to the growing popularity of informal knowledge sharing in IT companies through mentoring programmes and ad-hoc learning sessions delivered by more experienced staff, as well as the growth of self-learning through YouTube and podcasts.

3. Put in place strategies for addressing specific skills gaps

The strategies listed in the chart below were most frequently cited by respondents in the CompTIA Assessing the IT Skills Gap report.

4. Be realistic: forget ‘perfect’ – accept a good match

When you advertise a position, it’s all too easy to list a host of attributes and skills that the candidate absolutely should possess. The difficulty lies in finding that perfect individual. It’s much better to identify a handful of must-have skills and attributes, with further ‘nice to haves’ as a bonus when offered by candidates.

5. Don’t focus purely on technical skills

Of course these are necessary, but broader personality traits such as the ability to problem-solve and to work flexibly or having a strong work ethic and a positive approach to the job are also very important. I’ve heard MSPs comment that it can be difficult to hire technical people who also have good communications skills – which of course are essential in client-facing roles.

6. Accept you can’t just ‘plug and play’ when it comes to staff

You may believe that if you hire an experienced, qualified technician, your new hire will just slot right into your MSP business. That is an optimistic view. All new hires, be they graduates or experienced workers, will need ongoing training and support if they are to apply their skills to best effect. Lack of time is often cited as a big challenge by MSPs – but make the time for initial and ongoing investment in your staff and you could just prevent them looking to greener pastures in the future.

7. Be the kind of company people want to join – and to stay with

You may show candidates the most positive side of your business during the selection process – but make sure the reality for a new-hire doesn’t fall short of that. Your staff should enjoy working in your MSP business. If they don’t – they may not stay long.

We all need to feel valued for the work we put in each day and we expect to be rewarded appropriately – particularly on the occasions we go ‘above and beyond’. I don’t just mean in terms of financial remuneration – non-monetary compensation can be effective too – awards and bonuses, for example.

We also need to be challenged in our work to keep motivated. Working on the same daily grind is unlikely to bring your technicians racing into work with joy in their heart.

When people join your MSP business, they want to believe you will grow and that as you grow, there will be a long-term opportunity for them. Make sure there is a growth plan for their development. Give them the chance to acquire new skills and work on stimulating projects.

And, if you are creating a new senior post, don’t overlook the talent you already have: there may be someone who could be promoted into the slot, rather than you immediately looking outside.

Make sure the candidate is right for your business

The other side of (7) above is that the new-hire should fit in well with your company culture – and with your existing staff. The acid test for one of our partner MSPs was to hire the kind of person he would enjoy having a beer with – I’m assuming they ticked all the skills boxes too!

And if hiring in new resources is still problematical despite your most creative efforts –

Contact us to find out how we can help with our NOC, Project Services and Remote Staff Augmentation.


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