High-tech workers want job stability

Survey shows job security more important than base pay for first time

Job hopping no longer has the allure it once did for information technology workers. Instead, they want secure jobs in their home province, according to a recent survey of 2,000 IT professionals.

It’s the first time in the survey’s five-year history that job security outranked base salary as an important job factor. The 2002 High Tech Worker Survey, sponsored by IBM Business Consulting Services in co-operation with ComputerWorld Canada and Network World Canada, found job security had moved up from its 18th rank in 2000 to 12th last year. A high base salary, which ranked 11th in 2000 was ranked 13th in importance in 2002.

“In the past, job security in the IT community was not a key factor. Workers used to have the sense that they could get a job anywhere. But in this market, job security has really risen,” said Terry Lister, partner in human capital solutions, IBM Business Consulting Services.

“The other interesting finding was how the value put on stock options has plummeted.” In this recent survey, stock options ranked last (down from 32) in a list of 37 factors workers looked for from employers. The strategic role of IT and pay for overtime work were two other items that were downgraded in level of importance.

But some things haven’t changed, regardless of the job market. The top five things IT workers looked for from an employer have consistently been respect by an employer, health benefits, supportive and effective management, full reimbursement for training and opportunities for advancement. The next five factors of importance, which have also remained consistent, included the opportunity to work on assignments they’re proud of, having the latest technology to work with, formal training, access to IT-specific training and challenging assignments.

“I would anticipate that as the market tightens up, this workforce particularly will get more confident again. But despite the ups and downs around job security, people still hold as most important the value and the quality of the work. They’re a fussy crew,” said Lister.

“What I hope employers will do with this is recognize that it’s the total package that this workforce looks for. I wouldn’t say downplay the compensation, but play up all of the strengths that you have to offer to a workforce.”

Among the survey respondents who had been laid off over the past year (seven per cent of the overall respondents), close to two-thirds (61 per cent) said they accepted positions with compensation that was equal to or even lower than their previous jobs. One-third became self-employed, and 13 per cent of laid off workers had to relocate to find work.

Among the survey’s most interesting findings were those that linked aspects of work satisfaction with age, income and level of experience.

When it comes to age, young workers (aged 20 to 29) and older workers (above 60) were similar in their high satisfaction with the level of respect given them. Workers approaching the end of their careers (aged 55 to 59) were less satisfied with the level of respect, but were satisfied with their benefits.

In contrast, older workers (60 to 64 years old) were least satisfied with the benefits they enjoyed. Older workers were more happy with their opportunities to work on assignments they could be proud of, but considerably less satisfied with the level of support and effective management.

Higher expectations among older workers might be part of the reason, suggested Lister.

“When I talk to older workers more informally, one of the things I’ve noticed is you reach a stage in your career where it’s the intrinsic aspects of your work that are driving you. And you might have a lot less patience for poorer quality of management, especially when you see managers come and go.”

In the first year of the survey, Lister also conducted a number of focus groups. “And one of the people said, ‘I don’t want to be Dilbert, and I don’t want to work for the pointy-haired boss.’ And when I see year after year that people look for effective management, the opposite of that is the pointy-haired boss.”

She noted also that base pay ranked the highest among those with the least experience — less than two years — on the job.

“The importance of base salary was the lowest for those with three to five years’ experience. And it strikes me that those were the people hired at the peak of the boom. They’re now ranking salary quite low. There are two explanations for this: one, that they’re extremely well paid and don’t have to worry about it,” she mused.

“Or, they’re now more experienced and they’re realizing that in the long run, their staying power has more to do with other things like continuous learning and the ability to develop.”

The survey also interviewed 37 chief information officers on the question of recruiting and retention. While not quantitative, the CIOs’ answers could be grouped in three categories. One was, due to the slack job market, they didn’t have any recruiting issue because it was so easy to hire this past year.

Another group said they found it challenging not being able to offer competitive salaries. The third group said finding qualified people with good project management or strong communication skills was still difficult.

These are “scarce skills in any field, but add to that the technical skills that employers wanted, and we’re getting into a more rarified part of the market. That’s where employers could be developing people,” said Lister.

“I think this workforce is pretty astute; they understand that they have to build their skills. It’ll be their skills that put them in high demand.”

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