January 2019 | Point of View

Seattle’s more traditional industries can attract and retain tech talent, too

Prospective employees in tech are primarily looking for a supportive, exciting work environment; diversified and challenging workloads; and flexibility around hours and location

Seattle’s more traditional industries can attract and retain tech talent, too

Traditional industries know that to compete in today’s fast-paced digital world — where customer expectations are high, and where updates to apps and technology infrastructure are of paramount importance — they must attract and retain top tech talent.

But with unemployment in Washington state at record lows, and a bustling Seattle tech sector, job seekers in tech aren’t submitting their CVs to area banks, hospitals, and utilities in droves. They’re after employment opportunities at the Amazons, Microsofts and Googles of the world, where they aspire to rake in top dollar to work on cutting-edge products. According to West Monroe’s recent survey of HR professionals in Seattle, 16% said it was far more difficult to hire tech roles (vs. non-tech roles) and nearly 50% said it was somewhat more difficult.

We should ask ourselves, why are we so certain that high-tech organizations are where top tech talent will find the greatest satisfaction? Traditional industries in Seattle can be just as appealing, if not more, to these tech candidates. They just need to do a better job of making the case by being vocal that what they have is what technology talent actually wants. Here’s how.

What does tech talent want?

According to research detailed in the Harvard Business Review, prospective employees in tech are primarily looking for a supportive, exciting work environment; diversified and challenging workloads; and flexibility around hours and location.

Traditional industries can (and in a lot of cases, already do) check all these boxes. At an Amazon or Google, for instance, most positions tend to be very product-centric: Employees get placed on a specific product team and focus on building out that one offering, tool, or feature. In other industries, tech talent can be utilized in a variety of ways on a variety of projects. They’ll also be given those challenging opportunities earlier than they might at a larger tech firm, helping them progress more quickly through their careers. TRENDING TECHNOLOGY Huawei has office in Bellevue, filing shows A filing from Huawei's landlord reveals new details about the company's Bellevue office.

This is especially true as businesses in traditional industries begin to focus on making consistent technology investments, like moving from more classic infrastructure data centers to the cloud. Then, rather than having tech people fulfilling simple IT responsibilities, the company can offer opportunities to focus on helping to deploy and develop the most up-to-date technologies.

What it comes down to is that tech employees will have a seat at the table: the opportunity to help solve broader-scale business problems with technology, rather than simply being brought in to focus on a much more niche or specific technology or application. In doing so, they’ll develop the “soft skills” — leadership skills, communication skills, collaboration skills, and strategic thinking — they’ll need to advance in their careers.

Building an engaging culture for tech talent

Tech employees in more traditional industries can be leaders and innovators earlier in their careers, which is a great selling point for recruiters and HR managers. But, that means management must create the right culture and organizational structure. One business we work with, for example, has instituted processes for internally crowdsourcing investment or innovation ideas by creating an inclusive, open working environment for new thinking that doesn’t silo tech employees in one department or with one application, feature, or product.

Leaders need not only listen to their employees, but give them opportunities for internal mobility as well. This is particularly important in today’s job market, where millennial tech talent in particular seeks rapid advancement. Organizations should consider creating formal career planning and learning programs. Additionally, they can set hiring targets for internal candidates and create incentives for management to build the skills necessary to nurture potential and achieve progression.

This culture should support a healthy work-life balance, another area in which traditional industries can gain an edge. The tech giants and high-tech startups of the world have a reputation for running their employees ragged; traditional industries can often offer just as challenging work with better quality of life. Business leaders would do well to stay current on trends in this area by offering more flexibility, supportive and engaging workplaces, and competitive benefit programs. What’s key is that employees feel heard, be it by employee engagement surveys or some other process, and that their feedback is translated into tangible changes.

At the end of the day, higher salaries at big tech companies will obviously continue to be persuasive. But traditional industries can and should focus on what they have that tech talent wants, and bring that to the forefront. They should also highlight what those flashy tech companies can’t give them: a sense of belonging, a seat at the table, and an opportunity to do challenging work with their desired quality of life.

Now is the time to do it. With Amazon’s new headquarters opening elsewhere, there’s talk that some jobs may be leaving Seattle. And that opens the door for other organizations to recruit the tech talent that can take their businesses to the next level.

This article originally appeared on Puget Sound Business Journal.

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