Job loyalty is at an all-time low among IT and networking professionals, who are boosting their salaries by allowing themselves to be poached by skills-strapped rival companies.
The struggle to retain staff is highlighted by Lucent Technologies, which is embroiled in a legal battle with Cisco Systems after Cisco allegedly "pinched" 10 of Lucent's staff. Lucent claims that Cisco plotted to entice the workers away, effectively causing them to breach their contracts.
Getting the staff
With the explosion of the optical networking industry, employers have been going to great lengths to get the people with skills in that area. Cisco is set to open an optics manufacturing plant just 20 miles away from Lucent's own factory in Massachusetts.
A recent survey of staff in a number of companies by online recruiter Mightymatch reveals that 71 per cent of respondents are looking for new jobs. Unsurprisingly, the issues that were deemed most important by IT workers in the £70,000+ salary bracket were money, job interest and challenges.
Another big name in networking, ICL, is battling to appease discontented staff as its 21,000 employees face the loss of promised share options following the cancelled flotation.
Fiona Colquhoun, director of human resources at ICL, confessed: "I understand that people will review the direction of the business and decide what to do. We will have to look at other schemes and incentives to retain staff, now that we cannot offer share options."
Sam Gordon, senior consultant at Harvey Nash, believes that money is not the main decider in job loyalty. "ICL staff will feel let down as the company has not delivered on its side of the bargain. But networking professionals are still driven by technical challenges above all," he said.
"There is fierce competition to get exposure to the newest products and constantly update their skills - they want sexy projects. Often you will have to move to another company to find that. The job needs to be market rate, but the main motivator is the role," he added.
With the skills crisis in the industry expected to get worse in the next few years, employees are keen to retain the experienced staff that they already have on board.
Highly skilled networking professionals are an extremely valuable commodity in the present climate and the lure of more money from employers desperate to beat the competition must seem irresistible.
Simon McKenzie, consultant at Greythorn IT Recruitment, said: "In any industry that is fast moving you'll see a lack of staff loyalty. The market changes every six months and there are so many opportunities out there. Decisions have to be business driven. New challenges and job interest are valid reasons for moving but in all honesty money will be the first reason. Who can blame them? People in any other industry would do exactly the same."
Martin Brampton, chief analyst at Bloor Research, said: "This has always been the case. At one time contractors provided the only continuity in a company! Many employers don't have any loyalty to their staff so why should they expect it in return?"
Increasing the options
McKenzie said: "Companies don't necessarily have to use stock options as an incentive to retain staff. They can do, but most good companies are offering training, benefits or regular salary increases to keep people. They are providing employees with greater flexibility."
Analysts are predicting that the overall shortage of skilled IT professionals in Europe will grow from five per cent in 1998 to almost 20 per cent in 2002.
Companies will have to spend much more than they would like on finding, training and keeping the best employees. Failure to do that could be disastrous in an industry where job loyalty is a thing of the past.
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