The challenge of retaining IT talent in the construction industry

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If you think retaining IT talent is hard in your industry, try running an IT organization in the construction industry, where IT budgets – and thus dollars available for salaries – tend to be smaller than most. Then add onto that the challenge of being headquartered in Silicon Valley, where competition for top tech talent abounds.

Those are the realities I'm faced with when recruiting and retaining IT talent for the San Jose, CA-based electrical contractor I work for.

When you look across a wide range of industries, the construction industry tends to have the lowest IT budget spend-to-revenue ratio. So my first challenge, and probably the most difficult challenge, is acquiring and retaining top-notch IT people in Silicon Valley with that budget.

I lose people to the big-name companies in Silicon Valley all the time. I bring them in at the ground level, I train them up, they become great, productive employees, and then they go somewhere else because they can make more money and grow their careers.

For that reason, I have to be very creative about making our IT organization an exciting place to work with the resources I have. One way I do that is by recruiting prospective IT talent from other departments in the business. To me, having business acumen and a deep understanding of our company mission is more important and more powerful than most technology skills. Through training, mentoring, and partnerships, I can train most people up into many of the newer technologies. It's a little more challenging to do this in the construction industry than in the other industries I've worked in, but it does work.

The first time I tried this in construction, I did it as an experiment. I brought in an employee from operations, and he loved it so much that he never went back to the construction field.

There's a nice perk that comes along with doing that – it resonates well, both with the IT organization, and the rest of the business, because both sides can see the benefits of cross-pollination.

Another way I've been successful in retaining talent is by actively helping move people upward within my IT organization. For example, I try to get the folks working on the help desk moved up to sysadmins if I can, and this can help me retain talent longer. Of course, this sometimes has the opposite effect. Sometimes when you hire someone to help you with more fundamental tasks, such as converting legacy systems to state-of-the-art technology, by the time they finish the project, they've amassed a great resume that they can use to move on.

I've also been fortunate in my career to work with very loyal people. The top seven people in my organization have worked for me for a minimum of ten years. I have a devoted, strong technical group of people who have followed me. My infrastructure director has been with me for 20 years, I hired him right out of the Marine Corps. In fact, when I interviewed him, I thought he was going to do pushups up for me — it was hilarious. And he even went off and developed his own company, sold it, came back, and worked another gig for me. So all of these folks keep coming back and working for me. When you have a core management team of folks who you know and really like, who are almost always on the same plane in terms of thinking, it makes it a lot easier for them to manage their own teams.

Learn more about IT talent management in this Harvard Business Review report: "IT Talent Crisis: Proven Advice from CIOs and HR Leaders." 

Sam Lamonica is Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Rosendin Electric, the nation’s largest privately held electrical contractor. Rosendin Electric has over 4,000 office and field employees and yearly revenue of close to $1 Billion. He is responsible for the companies’ Information System Organization as well as Archives/Records Management. Prior to joining Rosendin Electric, Mr.

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