Things are changing for the better, even though there is still uncertainty as we watch the new administration in Washington. When it comes to our industry’s performance and future outlook, I look at a few indicators.
The first thing I take into consideration is NSCA research, which reviews the overall state and growth of the industry. This research is comprehensive and analyzes a number of different verticals and technology types. When growth becomes a pattern, it usually means that our industry as a whole is growing.
The second indicator is based on conversations I have with executives and owners of integration firms across the country. Over the past few months, these discussions indicate that things are getting better. I hear comments such as, “Chuck, we have many open positions to fill and we’re struggling to find the right people to fill these roles.”
This comment may not always indicate growth (sometimes the specialization of our industry can leave us limited in our hiring options), but a growing need for employees is a good sign that integration firms have an increased demand for products and services, and they need more resources to get the work done.
For a long time, one of the industry’s most limiting factors has been our inability to attract, recruit and retain talent from outside the industry. Because our industry doesn’t draw a lot of attention, the pay rates certainly aren’t the highest and so many integrators are small businesses, I often wonder what would make people want to join us.
I think it comes down to a few factors. First, we must recruit people early in their careers. Second, we need to extend outreach into new and diverse markets. And, we must focus on keeping and developing talent once we have it.
Many industries that are successful at attracting younger workers out of high school, technical school or college have also become extremely successful at partnering with educational institutions. Companies such as Enterprise, Target and Eli Lily all do tremendous outreach in the higher-education space to bring talent to their management programs straight out of school. This is a win-win: Schools pride themselves on quickly placing students into good positions, and businesses get the talent they need more quickly.
NSCA’s IGNITE program, launched in 2016, focuses on getting high school students interested in our industry. If we can reach the group of motivated, talented students who don’t plan to attend college, we can get them involved even earlier in our businesses to start them off right, train them and develop them into strong contributors.
NSCA’s C-SIP (certificate as a systems integration professional) program can help these new-to-the-industry employees get off on the right foot. When these individuals are enrolled in this online training, they’ll gain a solid understanding of the industry, as well as customized information about their roles, whether they’re joining an integration firm in marketing, operations, project management or sales.
There are other creative methods for hiring talent that may not be as obvious. For example, NSCA also developed its Hester Scholarship in 2016. This financial award supports the development and hiring of veterans in our industry. Veterans are a group of hardworking, motivated people who can provide a unique set of skills to integrators. Our industry has a unique opportunity to benefit from hiring veterans who are highly disciplined and adaptable thanks to their military training, yet may have a hard time finding employment.
One of the biggest challenges I see for integrators now and in the future is dealing with turnover. Our industry doesn’t have a great standard for training and developing employees, often due to our size, fast pace and entrepreneurial style. However, when employees come into organizations, they want to grow and take on new challenges.
I highly recommend recognizing your current employees for the assets they are. Nurture and develop them, and when you find good talent, consistently invest in that talent so you can keep them inspired. The cost of replacing employees is high, so filling roles becomes easier when you have employees who serve as your advocates. Employees can also be a great source for referrals when you’re attempting to fill new roles. Have you asked your team if they know anyone who might be a good fit?
If you are seeking fresh talent, there are many ways to find it. Job boards (including NSCA’s job board), LinkedIn and traditional networking are just a few of the ways to find your next hire.
Depending on the type of talent you seek, you may also want to consider looking beyond traditional hiring methods. Younger talent and veterans are two examples, but there are certainly others.
The good news is that things are continuing to improve. When I hear that our members are hiring, I instantly feel a sense of optimism about where our industry is headed.