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Channel execs share tech talent recruitment tips

In a rapidly evolving tech market, channel partners vie for IT talent. Use these tips to find job candidates, develop skills internally and retain employees.

With seemingly every business putting a premium on IT skills, channel partners must continuously evolve their tech talent recruitment strategies to staff their organizations.

The search for IT talent has become increasingly competitive over the past several years, making it a challenge to recruit skill sets needed for critical roles. The IT skills shortage, especially in cybersecurity, has been greatly understated, said Eric Foster, president of Cyderes, the security-as-a-service division of Fishtech Group, based in Kansas City, Mo.

"Not only is there a shortage of talent out there, [but] there's also a deflation of skills and abilities throughout the industry," Foster said. "Twenty years ago, it was easier to have an IT 'jack of all trades' who knew half of everything there was to know because there were only a couple technologies in each vertical and you had more specialization of skills."

To compete in the current environment, channel firms must adopt new tech talent recruitment strategies and stand out as employers, Foster said. Additionally, they must develop talent in-house and retain employees.

Look beyond the traditional IT talent pool

Some channel partners cast a wide net in their search for tech talent.

Cyderes has removed all education requirements from its job postings. The company also evaluates job candidates' prior work experience with an open mind. "For example, when we're hiring security analysts, we might take people who have been help desk techs, have worked for the [Apple] Genius Bar or [Best Buy] Geek Squad, or have utilized self-studying materials -- IT troubleshooting stuff," Foster explained.

If a job candidate has the right attitude and aptitude, they can go far. Cyderes has hired a few of its most successful employees from the world of casino security. "If they have the right mindset and conceptual background [in cybersecurity], we can train the rest," Foster said.

Virtual interviewing tips chart

Like Cyderes, Los Angeles-based business and technology consulting firm SADA Systems considers job applicants who don't have conventional computer science backgrounds. SADA CTO Miles Ward cited a recent hire who shifted to tech after a successful career as real estate agent.

"The tech world changes so quickly," Ward said. "We're finding a lot of [computer science] graduates who are very, very good at things nobody does anymore."

When hiring employees, channel partners should take their time to find the right fit, even when they desperately need more hands on deck, Foster said. It will cost more in the long run to hire the wrong person.

Partner with outside organizations

Channel partners can work with schools and third-party career development programs to aid tech talent recruitment.

Cyderes partners with local high schools to develop their cybersecurity education programs. The partnerships have created an IT talent pipeline for Cyderes. "We've found hiring people right out of high school or trade schools, like the [online coding program] Lambda School … has honestly been way better for us than the people coming out of four-year schools," Foster said.

The curriculums and textbooks at colleges and universities can't keep up with the industry like specialized programs can, he added.

Regional job training programs provide IT talent

To expand the pool of job candidates, channel firms such as 1901 Group, an MSP based in Reston, Va., and wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, have partnered with regional job training programs.

1901 Group joined the Virginia Ready Initiative, or VA Ready, as a corporate sponsor in June 2020. VA Ready is a nonprofit effort to combat the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting surge in unemployment. The program provides out-of-work Virginians with training for careers in fast-growing industries such as IT, according to the VA Ready website. Upon earning credentials in one of about 30 training programs VA Ready offers, participants receive a $1,000 Credential Achievement Award and interviews at Virginia-based companies such as 1901 Group.

Private and public programs for reskilling and upskilling participants are a critical part of 1901 Group's IT talent acquisition strategy, said Brendan Walsh, senior vice president of partner relations at 1901 Group. "Working with these programs has opened up a population of candidates we would have never seen [otherwise]," he said.

In addition to VA Ready, the company works with Virginia Values Veterans (V3), a Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Veterans Services Program. V3 trains veterans and connects them with local employers. In 2020 alone, 1901 Group hired 21 veterans through the program, Walsh noted.

The company also partners with AWS re/Start, which trains unemployed and underemployed workers in cloud computing and prepares them for job opportunities.

Following Leidos' January 2021 acquisition of 1901 Group, the company plans to replicate its success with third-party training programs outside of Virginia, Walsh said.

­Additional reporting by Spencer Smith.

Upskill existing talent

Internal training programs are essential for channel firms to upskill and retain employees.

SADA has developed internal training resources to ensure employees can learn new skills and pursue career goals, Ward noted. SADA University, an eight-week training program for employees to develop cloud infrastructure and data engineering skills, has already paid off. The University's inaugural class of four interns recently graduated into the jobs they trained for, Ward said.

In addition to upskilling employees, SADA University seeks to provide relevant skills in an ever-changing industry. "One hundred percent of the tech we're using today is going to be obsolete in four years, and we're going to have to teach everyone a bunch of new stuff," Ward said. "So, in some ways, the SADA [University] program is more about selecting good learners. That's a critical differentiator for people who are going to do well in this industry."

Partners can also benefit from longer-term training programs. Cyderes offers its security analysts a formal three-year development program that includes education and on-the-job training, Foster said. Cyderes analysts who meet the program's annual requirements can level up in salary and job challenges. Foster noted the program offers a well-defined skills development roadmap.

"[The analyst program] absolutely helps with job retention," he said. "For the first three years of Cyderes, we didn't lose an analyst."

Tips for IT talent retention

Ward believes SADA has a great track record in retaining talent.

"We have 12-, 13-, 15- and 20-year employees -- a clear testament to our ability," Ward said. "I think we've done a good job helping people grow with SADA. We have people that were effective in the early days, still effective today and they're still helping us take the next step forward to tomorrow. That's a big deal for us."

The following factors have helped SADA retain IT talent, according to Ward:

  • Provide good compensation. The company aims to make its work with customers valuable. This, in turn, generates profits that enable SADA to offer competitive salaries to employees.
  • Invest in training at the management level. "I think the No. 1 reason people leave jobs is because they don't like their boss," Ward noted. "We spend a lot of time investing … in our managers. We make sure they have training, coaching and peer groups to bounce ideas off of."
  • Maintain a balanced work culture. "There's a serious, serious Halloween costume competition, and we throw DJ parties on Thursdays," Ward said. "There's a lot of work HR does and a real serious budget for it."

Company culture is also important at Cyderes. "You can't fake a culture," Foster said. "Culture is what [it's] really like to be someplace on an ongoing basis. What we do is not just make sure that [employees] are right for us, but make sure we're right for them."

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