Last month I did some work for a company that has manufacturing plants in a number of rural locations. The IT managers who work in those locations complained about how difficult it is to hire IT people, partly because of the locations and partly because of the image of manufacturing being a dirty industry. Here are some ideas that may help.
Idea 1: Rethink the type of person you hire
There’s a general rule for hiring customer service people that you look for someone who can relate well to the public, and then you train the person in the area of expertise for which they’ll do customer support. This is because it’s much harder to do the reverse: hire someone with the expertise and then teach them to relate to the public.
Consider a similar approach when you’re hiring for an isolated or rural area. Find the kind of person who will want to live in that area and who is motivated to stay. Look for certain aptitudes which make the person trainable in the area of expertise you need, and then invest in training the person to suit your needs. When you define your candidate requirements this way, you might even discover that the ideal candidate is already in the area or even working in your company.
Idea 2: Think in terms of a career path – not just a job
Few people want to do the same thing every day for the rest of their lives. Most want to continue to learn and grow, and in many cases to attain positions of increasing responsibility. When you look at your people needs, think of how a person will grow and advance in each position. Try to define a progression of jobs, starting with an entry-level position and advancing to high-level, higher-paid positions. The entire progression may not reside in the IT organization – maybe you start the progression with part-time participation from a factory worker, or maybe the higher-end of the progression leads to supervisory positions in non-IT departments. But once the progression is defined – maybe with variations due to the interests of the individuals in the positions – you can sell the progression to prospective job candidates instead of just selling the job. This approach makes it much easier to hire people. They’ll feel comfortable that they’re not moving into a dead-end job, and they’re likely to stay with your company for many years.
Idea 3: Rotate people through an undesirable location as part of their career path
Look at the bigger picture. If you really can’t find someone to work permanently in an undesirable location, then make a temporary assignment at the location be part of a career path – maybe for a year or two. There’s probably some great experience to be obtained by working there temporarily. And who knows? Some of them may decide they want to stay.
Idea 4: Start an intern program to attract candidates while they’re still in school
Team up with local schools – colleges, vocational technical school, or even high schools – to attract candidates early. The schools are happy to help advertise intern positions and in most cases they’ll even help you select the most appropriate candidates. It’s a win-win for both you and the candidate: they get a way to help pay for their education, and you get a part-time or seasonal person who you can groom for a future full-time position.
Idea 5: Make your company a better place to work
Of course no one wants to stay in a company that treats its employees poorly, has terrible working conditions, and in general shows that it doesn’t value its employees. If this sounds like your company then you’ve got an up-hill battle to fight (and frankly I wonder why you’re still working there yourself). Employee surveys in all industries have shown that salary is not at the top of most people’s list of the most important things about their job. Instead, the most important thing is usually a feeling that the employees are contributing to something bigger, and that the employees are respected and valued for being themselves. Make sure that you and your organization are making your company a place where employees will want to work.
Idea 6: Use part-time or shared resource
Don’t assume that every one of your needs has to be fulfilled by a full-time person in your IT department. If you have a part-time need then see if there’s someone in a non-IT job who might be able to do the work. Or maybe you could go in with someone else in your company who has a part-time need, and find a person who can work a full-time job made up of part-time work for each of you.
If part-time resource with the right skills and aptitudes isn’t available inside your company then look outside. Are there other non-competitive businesses in your area that might have a similar part-time need? If so, then see if you can find someone who is willing to do part-time work for each of the businesses. You could think of this as outsourcing, but on a lower budget.
Idea 7: Outsource
Full-blown outsourcing is also a possibility. Find well-defined tasks that don’t have to be done locally; payroll and web site maintenance are two examples. Outsource these tasks to companies or individuals who work outside the area, and deal with them primarily by telephone and email. Or if your company has IT people in other locations, then consider outsourcing some of the work to people in those other locations.
Idea 8: Use standard products and technologies
I’ve seen companies that build proprietary systems around older or seldom-used technology (like the PICK operating system or dBase) and then wonder why they can’t attract people to work on them. You’re much better off using standard off-the-shelf software whenever possible and then building any proprietary software using currently popular products. There will be more people available who know the technology, you’ll find it much easier to obtain training for new people, and outsourcing will be much easier if you decide to go in that direction.
Similarly, it’s important to use good software design principles when building your software. For example, a layered approach which separates presentation, business logic and database will make it much easier to modify or adapt software for future needs, and it will be easier for multiple people (even in different locations) to work on the software without stepping on each others’ toes.
Companies in rural or undesirable locations have a slightly different kind of problem from those of us who live in metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean that IT needs must go unfulfilled. There are plenty of people in rural areas and quite a few people in urban areas who would love to move to a location with a different lifestyle and possibly a better quality of life.
The secret to recruiting for an undesirable area is to figure out what type of person would enjoy living there, and then try to find such a person who has the aptitude to do the job with some training. But that’s not all: you have to make the job attractive as a good career move so that people will want to stay.
Even with this approach, you have to be realistic about what needs to be done locally and what can be done elsewhere instead. The Internet and long-distance computing have made it possible to do IT work remotely that until recently would require an onsite presence.
The best approach to providing IT support for an undesirable location is a combination of tactics: reduce the job to the essentials, use standard technology, and find good people who actually enjoy working there. After all, what’s undesirable to you may be extremely attractive to someone else.