by Jim Zimmermann

Training as a strategic approach to recruiting and retaining IT talent

Jul 16, 2018
IT LeadershipIT SkillsStaff Management

Don’t just view training and development as a way to reskill staff. Make sure you leverage your investment as a weapon in the war for talent

9 expand knowledge training
Credit: Thinkstock

As the shortage of skilled IT talent becomes more severe, the war for quality talent is increasing in intensity. No matter whose studies you believe, everyone is in general agreement that there will be a shortage of millions of skilled IT professionals in the next few years. It is the perfect storm of one generation retiring at an increasing rate, more companies “going digital” and needing IT skills, and higher education is not preparing nearly enough new graduates with IT skills.

The shortage of skills is directly affecting the CIO and the IT organization’s ability to accomplish their goals. Forrester Research’s 2017 Global Business Technographics Priorities and Journey Survey found that “65% of CIOs said that the skills shortage was holding them back. The need for skills was the second highest priority among the CIOs surveyed.

It really is warfare trying to build and keep a skilled IT team to meet the goals of an organization. IT pros report receiving several calls a week from aggressive recruiters who are desperate to fill requisitions. And companies are equally desperate trying to hold onto the talent they have.

How you win the war for IT talent is partly affected by your company’s reputation, and increasingly by where your company is located. If you are lucky enough to be a Google or Amazon or another firm perceived to be a “cool place to work,” you will have candidates beating a path to your door. If you are located in specific cities like Austin, Texas and Seattle, Washington, you may also have an easier time finding talent.

But what if you are just a “normal” company in a less-desirable location – maybe a financial institution or a manufacturer and you need to find and retain talent? How can you compete?

There are lots of articles out there about ways to make your company a “cooler” place to work through perks like flex time, casual dress, onsite childcare, etc. We can’t all adopt these perks, but there is one weapon that you might already have in your arsenal to make your organization a more attractive place to work – training.

What role does training play in the battle to recruit and retain talent?


A recent Gallup survey reported that “Your employees want to learn and grow. In fact, 87% of the millennial workforce rates career growth and development opportunities as one of the most important parts of their job.” 

Most experts agree that retention is far more important than recruiting replacement talent. If you lose someone and by some miracle you are able to find a replacement whose resume exactly matches the skills of the person who left, they still don’t know how things are done in your organization – what is your infrastructure like, what standards do you follow, what libraries and repositories of reusable content is available, etc.? There will be a learning curve until your new hire matches the output of the person you lost.

And don’t underestimate the cost of losing an employee. According to Bersin by Deloitte, “The total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5-2X annual salary.” Bersin came up with those numbers by factoring in costs such as:

  • Cost of hiring a new person (advertising, interviewing, screening, hiring)
  • Cost of onboarding a new person (training, management time)
  • Lost productivity (a new person may take 1-2 years to reach the productivity of an existing person)
  • Lost engagement (other employees who see high turnover disengage and lose productivity)
  • Customer service and errors (new employees take longer and are often les adept at solving problems). In healthcare this may result in much higher error rates, illness, and other very expensive costs (which are not see by HR)
  • Training cost (over 2-3 years you likely invest 10-20% of an employee’s salary or more in training, that is now gone)
  • Cultural impact (whenever someone leaves others take time to ask why).


Despite your best efforts and training programs, you will lose some people, so eventually you will need to attract and recruit new talent for your organization. As I mentioned earlier, there is a war for talent going on and talent has many opportunities and companies to choose from. There are many things you can do when crafting your job postings to put on a job site or send to a recruiter but consider again how you can position your organizations development and training opportunities.

A blog on Human Resources Inc. flat out states that “Being a company known for offering and encouraging growth opportunities can help you attract and retain highly skilled people.”  

A Recruiting Blogs post claims that “Training and learning is an employer’s most valuable asset — and one that must be emphasized in the recruitment stage. …. Set aside the monotony of explaining your corporate hierarchy, and instead use a job posting to promote your company culture, benefits plan, and yes, opportunities for training. Tell the top players why they should want to play on your team.”


Let’s take a look at some tactics you can use to reap additional benefits from your training programs.


A good place to start when looking at how to leverage your investment in training and personal development as a recruitment tool is to review your career page(s) and your job postings. Do you even mention training and development on the site or in your postings? If not, figure out how to best promote training and development as a major benefit of working for your organization. And don’t put training and development in as an afterthought – highlight and promote it as the great benefit it is!


Many companies I talk with buy training content and a delivery platform, and then make it almost impossible for staff to find the time to take training. You have to make a commitment to allowing people the time they need to develop the skills they need to do their current job and to be ready to tackle new challenges and opportunities as they arrive.

A great example of how a company has profited from requiring staff to take training is Mercy, a 45-hospital, 300-clinic Catholic health care group with over 50,000 employees. Mercy requires all of their staff to take a minimum of 40 hours of training per year. Mangers are reviewed on how much training their teams completed, and staff are also rated on training they have taken. I want to emphasize that 40 hours per year is the bare minimum – a “satisfactory” level on a performance review. If you want to “exceed expectations,” you need to take a lot more than 40 hours of training a year. The results of this policy have been amazing for the organization. The research firm Nucleus Research conducted an ROI analysis on Mercy’s training investment in 2016 and found a staggering 526% return on their investment, earning them a Nucleus Research ROI Award.

Don’t just view training and development as a way to reskill staff. Make sure you leverage your investment as a weapon in the war for talent! Take the steps to promote your training and development programs in your efforts to attract and recruit new talent, and make sure you give your staff the time they need to take advantage of the learning and development programs you offer. And of course, if you are not offering quality training to your staff, you are at a real disadvantage in the War for Talent.