A job in cyberspace?

A job in cyberspace?

According to research from executive search company Korn/Ferry International, high technology companies led all industries for international executive demand in 1999. Its International Executive Demand Index found technology and telecommunications companies in the Asia/Pacific region held a 21 per cent share of demand in 1999, up from 17 per cent at year-end 1998.

The survey was based on a quarterly survey of more than 4000 Korn/Ferry clients, including government agencies, universities and cultural institutions.

Demand may be high for staff, but it appears it's largely a personality type which startups target, rather than looking to secure staff from certain industry sectors.

Julie Perigo, principal, e-commerce and Internet clients at Korn/Ferry, believes startups are the most attractive area for employees to go to at the moment. "The difficulty for traditional IT companies . . . is that the startups tend to be attracting most of the brightest and the best."

She said some of its traditional clients were finding it very hard to attract the sort of people they had been able to before. Asked if this applied to channel companies which also had a presence in the space, Perigo said would-be employees were pretty smart about working out if a company was serious about migrating a large amount of its business online. She believes there is still a "bubble" surrounding startups and people were attracted to experiencing what it was like working in that environment for a couple of years.

As to retaining staff, Perigo believes what is attractive about startups for potential employees was often hard for the more traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses to re-create. "It's the idea they're doing something totally new, and all those intangibles which are difficult for a traditional company to reproduce. Plain money really doesn't seem to be the deciding factor."

Steven Hayes, managing director at recruitment consultant IT&T Careers, said Net startups generally find staff "wherever they can get them". This may include friends, former colleagues and recruiting through consultancies.

Hayes said the types of staff these companies recruited fall broadly into two categories: technical or sales/management roles. Asked by ARN if he thought there was competition for staff from channel organisations, Hayes said many systems integrators now have e-business or e-commerce divisions and those divisions are competing with the Web startups for staff.

As for retaining staff, Hayes points to examples in the US where stock options, advancements and breakfasts are just some of the sweeteners used to hold on to good workers. Hayes said the result of incentives such as these was that companies have happier people who stayed with the company longer.

John Grant, managing director at integrator Data#3, believes it is the general IT skills shortage in Australia which has created an environment of competition for staff, particularly experienced people with the relevant skill sets.

"We personally haven't seen a lot of that competition, but there's no doubt in my mind that it must exist."

Grant believes channel companies, look at retaining key staff in various ways, such as giving them some sort of interest in the company's performance, and cites the example of some listed companies which offer staff options. He believes, from an employee's point-of-view, one of the things on their minds when faced with a decision of whether to stay with an integrator or move to a startup was the element of stability. "There's a track record of stability and reliable performance and there is an element of risk with scenarios."

He uses Data#3 as an example of an integrator which has moved into the space, giving its employees the opportunity to work in that area without having to move to a startup.

More generally, Grant believes Australia has a great challenge ahead of it to meet the demand for skills in the industry, and needs to do something about it, particularly in the education system itself.

Internet marketing company FreeISP is a business which could be referred to as a startup.

Tamara Keniry, FreeISP's CEO, said it had recruited staff from a number of different places. "We haven't restricted ourselves to just the IT industry," Keniry said.

According to Keniry, it was after people who were going to "make it happen", regardless of what industries they came from. However, she did clarify this by saying that for the more technical roles, it looked for a certain set of skills, whereas with sales and marketing roles it was more the type of person.

Keniry cited people who were open-minded, with drive and ambition, were multi-skilled and had the ability to move with the "fast-paced nature of the industry".

Asked by ARN if she thought startups were competing with traditional channel companies, Keniry said only to a certain extent. "It is a certain sort of person who'll take on a role like this . . . different from someone who is just looking for job security."

Keniry said it was currently salary and bonuses which were used to retain staff. "Obviously we're moving towards an IPO, so that's a big incentive for people to stay. It's just an exciting environment . . .

"It all comes back to a personality thing more than anything else. It's someone who has the vision and it's being more instrumental in the success of an organisation."

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