When you consider the unemployment rate, it’s hard to imagine an industry that has significantly more open positions than there are qualified people to fill them. That is the case for the IT industry. Each year, 80,000 jobs are estimated to become available in the IT profession across the nation.

“Even if I could afford to buy everybody on the market, I still couldn’t fill all of my jobs,” said Meg Sadak, Director of Recruiting, Avid XChange. Sadak is responsible for filling IT positions for the software development company headquartered in Charlotte.

Sadak and a panel of four others spoke at a recent seminar: “Recruiting & Retaining Top IT Talent,” hosted by Charlotte’s BIG Council.  The group addressed the deficiency of qualified IT professionals in North Carolina, and shared what they were doing to overcome it.

“It’s important to start early; build the pathway long before someone enters the workforce,” said Lonnie Emard.

As the Director of Staff Resource Management / Information Systems Division at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Emrad grew the organization’s employees and contractors from 1200 to 2300 in seven years; and is responsible for maintaining a 93 percent retention rate at a time when IT companies struggled to hold on to their best employees.

“If you say ‘IT” they think IBM, Microsoft, Google,” said Emard, who is on a mission to collaboratively bring business and industry together with academia to ensure that North Carolina doesn’t fall behind.

“IT positions need to be filled across all industries: financial, retail, insurance, manufacturing,” he said.

So Emrad and partners came together to establish a vision, strategic plan and programs to achieve the mission of advancing IT talent. IT-oLogy was formed to accomplish this.

According to Emard and the IT-oLogy mission, the key is to Promote IT (K-12), Teach IT (Higher Education) and Grow IT (Professionals and Businesses.)

“The model of going into the middle schools, high schools, and offering internships, is very collaborative, bringing business and industry together with academia and while students receive real experience, they’re building a portfolio of results on those projects,” Emrad said.

With the current shortage of qualified IT graduates and employees in the market, Charlotte companies are forced to look outside of the state, but the good news is, we’re not grossly behind the rest of the nation.

“We’re specifically targeting regions in the country that have a better ratio of applicants to open jobs than Charlotte does,” said Ken Garcia, Co-founder and Chairman of PrecisionLender. “If you look at the percentages, no one is really any better off than us. Maybe by a half of a percent; but if we have to relocate good talent, that’s what we have to do.”

Businesses have gotten creative in implementing tactics to attract top talent. John Fread, Co-Founder and COO of Logical Advantage relies on his company’s culture.

“There are more important things in life than a career. We require everybody to work 40 hours a week and that’s it. If someone works more than that – I’m not doing my job right and the project managers are not doing their job right. We don’t burn people out.”

As with Fread, several of the panelists allow their employees to work from home one to two days a week; receive a sizeable amount of paid time off, are allowed to dress casually and listen to their i-pods throughout the day.

According to Michelle Coviello, Director of Business Development, HireNetworks, “Today, businesses may think that because unemployment remains high, that they can be choosy when hiring,” she said. “Many companies are coming to realize that, despite high unemployment, the available high-tech talent pool is limited.”

The panelists all agreed that they have to be competitive and offer a substantial salary to their employees, or someone else will.

“When supply and demand are out of balance, weird things happen,” said Emard.

In addition to a healthy salary, some of the panelists reward employees who help them recruit great talent.

“If the employee brings someone in and they stay 90 days, the employee gets a nice bonus,” said Fread.

This is also the case at AvidXchange. Sadak incorporates an employee reward system for acquiring new talent and leverages social media to do so. She implemented s tracking system that enables employees to post her job openings on their own facebook and Linkedin pages. She is able to track “who” clicks on “which” employee’s posts. That employee, then earns points for the click, more points for an interview, and of course more points as a potential employee moves through the interview process. Those points can be cashed in for gift certificates, an i-pad, even round trip airfare.

“90 percent of our successful candidates come from our employee networks,” she said.

Networking is the key to fill the gap between the skilled talent available and the jobs that need to be filled. The collaboration of academia, higher education and corporations brought together by IT-oLogy is what is needed to advance IT talent. If you would like more information about IT-ology, log on to http://it-ology.org

(Editor’s note: Peggy Glassman is owner of ACME Digital in Charlotte.)

(C) Peggy Glassman