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No Settling for Second-Best

 
 
By Alison Diana
 
 
 

The overall unemployment rate is slowly inching downward, and an informal survey of solution providers shows that channel executives are quickly bolstering their staffs as customers gear-up to spend on long-delayed IT projects and invest in new technologies that will help their businesses save money, enhance productivity, or become more flexible.

Currently, the general unemployment rate stands at 8.5 percent, with the number of people applying for benefits in mid-December falling to 366,000, the fewest since May 2008, according to the Associated Press. Within IT, the unemployment rate for tech professionals is even better: In June, unemployment was 3.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that number is only expected to drop further as companies scramble to tap into the benefits of virtualization and cloud computing, expand mobility, evolve social media programs, and revamp aging infrastructures, experts predict.

After all by 2015, 35 percent of enterprise IT expenditures for most organizations will be managed outside the IT department's budget, Gartner predicts. Companies will spend more on mobile applications to support their ever-increasing fleet of smartphones and tablets; will demand proven, secure cloud partners, and require assistance to reap the most benefit from big data, according to some of Gartner’s year-end report: "Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users, 2012 and Beyond: Control Slips Away."

That’s great news for skilled IT professionals who work—or want to work—at one of the many solution providers targeting these public- and private-sector clients.

"In the last 10 weeks we might have hired 20 new people and we’re looking for another 15 right now," Bob Elfanbaum, general manager of Asynchrony Solutions told Channel Insider  in December 2011.

And Elfanbaum is far from alone.

Where the Jobs Are

In fact, solution providers across the country are hiring professionals in all disciplines, ranging from programmers and engineers to sales and marketing experts to bolster their existing staffs, executives said.

"Security is a very large draw for us. We’re seeing senior engineering type positions; there’s a big demand for those. People have put off spending money now they have to do their infrastructure and their virtualization projects and you’re not going to get a help desk person to run those," said Todd Billar, director of channel development at VAR Staffing, a recruitment agency that works exclusively with the channel. "Virtualization and security are probably about the biggest we’re seeing. We’re also seeing quite a bit of development coming down the pipe too."

 

Ingram Micro, which offers an IT staffing service to its channel partners, has also seen a steady increase in business from solution providers seeking staff, said Jason Bystrak, director of sales and services at Ingram Micro North America. As a result, the distributor expanded a dedicated sales-team to focus exclusively on its staffing solutions, he said.

"We’re seeing the pipeline of opportunities more than triple," said Bystrak. "We’re starting to see that business grow at a much faster rate than we had."

For its part, xkzero expects to double from 11 employees to about 22 staff by the end of 2012, company founder Paul Ziliak told Channel Insider. The Sage ERP systems VAR, which specializes primarily in manufacturing and distribution companies, has expanded into selling its own software, he said. As a result, the VAR has more job openings across a spectrum of responsibilities.

"We’re going to build stuff with very broad appeal," said Ziliak. "Now we want to play leapfrog with our organization, with software development. We thought it would be nice to sell our own software. In 2012 we definitely see the growth starting to grow from there. In the meanwhile we’ve been an excellent consulting organization and we think launching these applications, which is happening right now, will help bring even more attention and new opportunities in the consulting end of ERP."

Multi-national solution provider Dimension Data—which has offices in the Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific, Australia, Europe, and the Americas—is always on the look-out for high-quality personnel, Denise Messineo, senior vice president, Human Resources at Dimension Data Americas, said in an interview.

"We’re actively recruiting. We’re always recruiting for good technical people and good sales people. The more people we have telling our story, the better off we are," she said. "We’re always looking for good feet on the street to tell our story. It seems like the IT world is still moving along, and that’s a good thing."

What SPs Want

Desirable qualities vary, of course, depending on the solution provider and the position, but most executives agree that beyond technical or sales experience, it is vital that candidates fit into their organization’s culture.

"When hiring an employee, there are a variety of personality profile testing services that will help you make the right decision about a new hire. They will help identify those traits that may signal a challenging personality or they may also identify strengths that you need to play to as part of their
 employment experience," Mike Johnson, president of Cerdant, a managed security services provider, told Channel Insider. "It's important to note that there are many technical people that are smart enough to deliver a complex service, but they may not have a personality that you want to put in front of your customers."

Asynchrony Solutions, which is focusing much of its effort on developing new iOS applications, is an Agile company and its developers thrive in this environment, said Elfanbaum. Developers are disciplined yet collaborative, he said, and participate in peer-programming, where individuals’ opinions are respected, he said.

 

"All our founders came out of big companies. One of the foundational premises of the companies was, we don’t want this to be a place where we don’t want to show up every day. We made a lot of decisions about culture. It starts with, number one, respecting people as decision-makers—the idea that an individual is not replaceable," said Elfanbaum. "With peer-programming, you’re explaining your thought process. They either love it or they say, 'Oh my God, I want to go back to my cubicle, put my headphones one and write code.  When we get the really good people here, they really thrive in the environment."

Individual respect is critical at xkzero, as well. Eight of the company’s 11 staff once owned their own businesses, something Ziliak respects and seeks in new employees, too.

"What we’ve discovered is—we’ve had nobody quit but we’ve had a handful of people that we’ve parted company with because they weren’t the right fit for our organization—is that every consultant needs to be entrepreneurial in a small business otherwise you can’t compete with bigger companies," he said. "The one thing in common is that the others who used to own their own business don’t want to seem to go back to go their own business again. We’ve tried to create a culture for them that allows them to be entrepreneurial. We know they’re productive because they have track records."

The solution provider also tries to avoid hiring people who bring unnecessary drama to the workplace, said Ziliak.

"The last piece, maybe the most important piece, but when we talk internally about who we are and what’s important to us, one of the qualifications we have in our company is no jerks and no bullies. Not a week passes when somebody mentions it at some point. We’ve all worked with jerks and bullies," he said. "Especially if the jerk or bully is a productive person who for some reason has a client following, then you have to deal with different standards of behavior. You get people who might be otherwise quite well-mannered who aren’t as comfortable anymore. It’s something we look for in interviews. We’re an idea company. The last thing we need, as an idea company, is minds crowded with unnecessary drama."

 

In the case of Mendix, the 100-employee software developer seeks enthusiastic, knowledge-seeking technologists, CEO Derek Ruse told Channel Insider. It can make recruitment challenging: Mendix interviewed about 150 candidates for 20 positions, he said. But turnover is low as a result of its in-depth staffing processes, Ruse said.

"Personally, I look for people who don’t think they have all the answers but people who know they don’t have all the answers, but are willing to look for the answers, people who are open to new thoughts, new people and new ideas," he said. "We’re extremely critical even though the need for people is huge, but we cannot allow ourselves to go for second-best. It would break down what we build."

An Employee’s Market?

Where it once was an employer’s market, the hiring pendulum is shifting back in favor of job-seekers—at least in the IT space, according to executives.

"In March, you’d give a candidate an offer and they’d jump all over it. Now you give a candidate an offer and they’ll have a couple of counter-offers," said VARStaffing’s Billar. "The talent marketplace has become much tighter also. For a talented candidate, it is their market."

As IT professionals consider their opportunities, they should look beyond salary and traditional benefits such as insurance and 401Ks, and try to determine how well they fit within the organization’s over-reaching culture, executives said. Many solution providers offer benefits that range from flexible work hours and telecommuting, to corporate discount programs and bring-your-dog-to-work days. It may not be like working at Facebook or Google but, as staffing experts are quick to point-out, many IT experts would prefer a career at a smaller organization or a solution provider where they can resolve customers’ problems.

"There is certain talent that doesn’t want to work for large companies. There’s a lot of M&A action going on. There is some talent that prefers to work closer to management," said Billar.

Solution providers are preparing for increased business in 2012 by adding staff across multiple departments. That’s good news for well-qualified candidates seeking a new business home, and gives channel organizations another way to differentiate themselves through corporate culture, staff loyalty, and benefits programs.

 

This article was originally published on 2012-01-10