In January, research house Gartner found that the global talent shortage is the largest perceived risk for organizations.
The shortage, cited by 63 percent of the 137 global senior executives questioned by Gartner in Q4 of 2018, jumped two places from Q32018, ahead of other pressing concerns including accelerating privacy regulation and lagging digitization.
Not only that, according to Matt Shinkman, managing VP and risk practice leader at Gartner, the talent shortage underscores the other heightened concerns business leaders highlighted in the research, such as digitalization and regulation, meaning that it has now become a constant for businesses across the board.
"Organizations face huge challenges from the pace of business change, accelerating privacy regulations and the digitalization of their industries," said Shinkman. "A common denominator here is that addressing these top business challenges involves hiring new talent that is in incredibly short supply."
That short supply has been steadily imposing more and more pressure on the channel, where MSPs in particular find themselves aligned with Gartner's research when it comes to the talent shortage risk.
"The talent shortage is a real thing," said Eric Schlissel, CEO at Los Angeles, CA-based MSP Geektek IT Services.
"We're competing as an MSP with companies like Google and Amazon, which is especially challenging in the cities where they have headquarters, and we're in Los Angeles where we have pretty big corporate players, so we find ourselves in a position where people are simply getting better offers. We are a reasonably small company and so we get priced out of some of the best talent."
Geektek is not alone. Jeremy Wanamaker, CEO of Albany, NY-based MSP Complete Network Support, said the firm started to notice last year how difficult it was to recruit the most sought after staff.
"We don't have too much trouble finding lower-skilled technicians, but the engineers and the higher-skilled talent has been more difficult for us to find and that really started in the early part of last year," he said.
The good news is, however, that while the talent shortage is real for MSPs across the country, it also offers opportunity for partners to up their game and build businesses potential employees will be attracted to and build a successful career with.
It's vital for MSPs to consider every part of the recruitment process from the very first step, which means starting at the job description, according to Wanamaker.
"We're currently working on re-writing some of our job postings and job descriptions to make them more attractive," he said.
"I think that's important. People see a job description and they want to get excited about it from the first impression, so even little things like that we have to make sure we're better at to attract more talent."
Mike Ritsema, president and partner at Grand Rapids, MI-based MSP i3 Business Solutions, agrees that details matter at the very beginning of the process.
"We're very specific about defining the technical skills we need," he said.
i3 Business Solutions has a "very organized and specific recruiting process", claimed Ritsema, which includes using recruitment and HR platform Hireology to advertise a position, and also a specific recruitment firm that finds resumes for the MSP.
The interview process
Relying on a list of generic questions pulled from Google is a bad idea, Schlissel said, unless you're looking for generic candidates. Geektek employs a "thorough" process that conducts the interview like a sales conversation on part of both the MSP and the candidate.
"You're selling your firm to them and they're selling themselves to you, so we don't want to just ask a list of questions, we love open-ended questions that allow the candidate to really explore their experiences. We like to ask questions about very oddball scenarios and we see what the reaction is. We want to know what the person will do under stress, and it's around that that people are hired."
Meanwhile, Ritsema said that finding someone with the right passion for working at an MSP is key.
"I want people that are passionate about technology, and it's tough to interview for passion, but somebody that talks about the network they have in their house or talks about the first PC they got when they were 12 years old. When you find that passion, to me, that's the right person," he said.
Retaining top talent
Probably the most difficult challenge of all: how do you stop the top talent you've recruited from being poached or from looking for a position elsewhere? Company culture has a huge influence on this, according to Wanamaker.
"We've been working on our company culture and making sure that the culture is a place that people want to come to, and then once they get here, they want to stay," he said.
"We reworked our core values last year and went through an extended exercise making sure that we understand them, and then we spent a lot of time disseminating them through the organization and then building a recognition program around the core values," he explains.
This has "contributed greatly" to the MSP's culture, Wanamaker noted, adding that it enables the firm's employees to understand what's expected of them, but also how they can be successful in the organization. The core values are reinforced on a daily basis by means of financial rewards for staff who maintain them and also enabling staff to nominate co-workers for core value recognition, which, Wanamaker said, has "paid dividends" for the firm when it comes to retaining top talent.
Recognition is a key factor repeated again and again by MSPs treading a successful path in recruiting and maintaining top talent. Not just recognition of staff in their daily successes, but recognition that working for an MSP is not the easiest of jobs.
"I say very frequently that the MSP lifestyle is incredibly hard," Schlissel said. "People have a choice between working at a large company as a single IT person where you have one network, or at an MSP with all of these different clients and all of these different phone calls. It's a grind, and it's very hard because you have to share all responsibilities. It's not an easy sell to get somebody to work at an MSP to begin with."
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