With recent surveys suggesting that only a minority of IT workers intend to stay with their current employer, convincing valued workers to stay on is testing the effectiveness of recent hiring strategies – and forcing employers to double down on their best attributes.

For companies that weathered the past two years well, finding the right staff has often required executives to think differently – with many eschewing outside talent searches to focus on convincing skilled technical staff to consider new opportunities.

“We’ve been fortunate over the past two to three years that our level of attrition has been very, very low,” Eshan Dissayanake, head of digital security with Coles Group, said during a recent roundtable discussion about skills development and retention.

“It’s really our focus now to make sure people are engaged – and for the first time, I’ve started to see people move around where they are actually getting out of corporate and moving into education.”

“They are coming to the stage of their career and life where they want to move away a little bit from the day-to-day stress of dealing with yet another crisis,” he said, “to using their skill sets and their knowledge to go and teach people about cyber and help them grow that capability.”

A casual corridor conversation with one former developer, an incident management and support team member, for example, led Dissayanake to encourage her to apply for a new executive role heading the company’s cyber defence centre.

“She interviewed well, joined my team, and I’m extremely proud of that achievement because she has made a huge difference,” he said.

“She has brought that outside-looking-in perspective, and not only on security. She’s found all these processes that we could improve, because she worked in our development and support areas and looked at all the other aspects that make the team efficient.”

Taking a human-centric approach

A new Gartner survey found that IT workers are 10.2 per cent more likely to quit their jobs than those in other functions – with 23.6 per cent of Australia and New Zealand workers saying they were going to stay, well behind the 38.8 per cent in Europe and 29.1 per cent global average.

That was a slight improvement from other recent figures but still poses a challenge for IT executives fighting to keep valued staff.

Retention strategies have been front-of-mind at digital solutions developer Kablamo for years, with business development manager Clare Burrows among the innovators that were lured to the company with the promise of a flexible zero-hours contract.

Years later, she says, Kablamo has continued to grow on the back of a recruitment mindset that is focused as much on fit with company culture as it is on technical skills.

“The market is so challenging to hire at the moment,” Burrows said, noting that the company has been bypassing conventional recruiters and instead focusing on reaching out through existing employees’ networks.

“When you’ve got amazing technical leads within your own business, it attracts people to come work with us,” Burrows told Information Age. “You’ve got this automatic vouching for the credibility of that person.”

Interviews canvas not only technical skills but “characteristics like making sure that they’re interested in developing themselves technically, and that they’re happy to work across multiple types of projects.”

“Sometimes you find technical people only want to work on certain types of projects, but that doesn’t really work in this organisation. We make sure they’re going to be on the same page, and the way we like to do things as a business – and flexibility from there is going to be what keeps and retains people.”

To improve retention, research firm Gartner advises companies need to shift from a skills-based work model to one that is based on a human-centric approach emphasising flexible working hours, hybrid in and out-of-office working, and use of collaboration tools for distributed decision making.

This approach has been invaluable for security firm Trustwave, which is working through an extensive transformation and actively invests in its people so they feel both valued and see a future with the organisation.

“There’s been a lot of change in the industry, some driven by our own decisions and some driven by external factors,” said Jason Whyte, general manager for cyber security with consulting firm Trustwave, which has been working through an extensive transformation of its own.

Trustwave provides $5,000 per year and five days’ training leave to encourage staff to build their skills, aiming to improve retention by supporting the argument that the company is invested in their future.

“Having the right culture in the business and doing the little things go a long way for retention purposes,” Whyte said.

“We see people that have exited the organisation because they believe there’s something better somewhere else, but within six to 12 months we have contact with them again.”

“People have actually got to believe in the organisation, and fundamentally believe that working here is a great thing.”