If your company isn’t one of the high-glamour, high-tech Shangri-las of the Western world, you’ll probably have to go to extra lengths to recruit good IT people. Try offering them dog food.
One company that has had considerable success in luring IT employees to Dayton, Ohio, with tempting offers of pet food–40 pounds of it per month, to be exact–is Iams Co. But of course there’s more to it than that.
Iams is the maker of the Eukanuba and Iams brands of premium foods for dogs and cats. With revenues of $500 million a year and 1,500 employees worldwide, Iams is the seventh-largest pet-food manufacturer in the world. Like most companies its size, Iams needs computer professionals, and computer professionals are in short supply these days in nonglamorous industries such as manufacturing.
The lure of glamour
IT people, especially when they’re starting out, are attracted by the high-tech companies. This attraction starts early. When I ask students on college campuses and at meetings where they want to begin their IT careers, they typically mention Microsoft, IBM, and other computer-industry heavyweights. Seldom do they say they want to work for a tire manufacturer, a supermarket chain–or a dog-food producer.
Outsourcers are another part of the problem for companies like Iams. The large consulting firms are well-oiled IT hiring machines. A recent survey by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research (http:/www.forrester.com) indicates that EDS, Arthur Andersen, and other technical-services firms typically have 150 full-time IT recruiters and hire an average of 2,000 computer pros a year. Compare that with the typical Fortune 500 company, which has five IT recruiters and hires 80 to 100 computer professionals a year, according to the survey. Bob Chatham, senior analyst at Forrester, says Boston-based Keane Inc., the application-development, outsourcing, and integration-services firm, hired more than 4,000 IT professionals in the past year.
Not only do the outsourcers hire more IT people, they offer them very attractive working conditions: Consultants working for Keane and similar firms often are able to work on a variety of assignments–they may have four or five different assignments in a year. An IT worker with a nontechnical firm, on the other hand, may work on a single project or system for years.
But the news for nontechnical companies isn’t all bad. While younger programmers may enjoy the excitement and travel that comes with many consulting assignments, there is, as Forrester’s Chatham says, “a burnout point.” Eventually, many workers tire of life on the road and start looking for something a little more stable. Positions that previously seemed mundane begin to look more attractive.
At Iams, director of employment Anita Wray says that while the company has trouble luring single IT pros to the Dayton area, the area’s low cost of living and high quality of life are selling points for professionals with families.
The company had hoped to attract high-tech workers with its on-line job listings, but to date the impressive Iams Web site (http://www.iams.com)– which is loaded with pet-nutrition and product information and includes an extensive list of job openings–has yielded no IT candidates.
Still, Iams continues to find qualified candidates to fill its computing vacancies. “It just takes a little longer,” says Wray. She adds that the company’s best IT recruiters are its employees and that many of the firm’s current high-tech workers were recruited by coworkers, including Mike Jackson, Iams’ vice president of IT since November 1997. “I was attracted to Iams because it is a growing business, has great products, and a great people culture,” Jackson says. “I wanted to be a part of a winning team.” In fact, 60% of IT hires come from referrals, while 25% of all Iams hires are referred by other Iams employees. Iams also pays current employees $500 when a person they refer is hired in any department.
Wray notes that Iams’ management style is another reason that the company is successful in its recruiting efforts. As a smaller, privately held company, Iams is able to offer its employees more freedom and less bureaucracy than many other companies in the area, she says.
And then there’s Iams’ pet-friendly atmosphere, an important intangible that draws employees to the company and creates a feeling of community among Iams workers. More than 80% of Iams employees own a dog or cat, a figure well above the national average of 46% (38% have dogs, while 33% have cats). For many of these employees, the 40 pounds of pet food per month and various pet-related activities sponsored by the company are valuable fringe benefits.
While nontechnical companies will continue to face increased challenges in the struggle to hire and retain computer workers, those that are able to create working environments that meet their employees’ needs and inspire a sense of community will be successful. Iams is successful because it gives its employees the freedom to succeed in a workplace surrounded by other pet-lovers. To many dog and cat lovers I know, this may be more important than bonuses, flex time, or even stock options. //
James R. Wolf is an assistant professor of Computer Information Systems at Cedarville College in Cedarville, Ohio, and a freelance writer specializing in Internet-related topics. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.