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Outlook 2012

The CIO's lament: 20-something techies who quit after 1 year

Harry Fox Agency's IT chief discusses how hard it is to retain younger IT professionals, especially Java programmers

By , Network World
December 23, 2011 06:04 AM ET

Network World - Louis Trebino, CIO and senior vice president at the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) in New York City, is experiencing significant turnover on his Web development team.

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SUMMER 2012 UPDATE: Largest IT employment gains in 4 years reported

No sooner does he hire a Java programmer and train him in the company's music industry niche, than the programmer is recruited away for a higher salary. Indeed, everyone on Trebino's six-person Java development team has less than one year of experience with HFA, which is the nation's leading provider of rights management, licensing and royalty services for the music industry.

IT staff turnover — particularly among 20- and 30-somethings -- is making it harder for Trebino to respond to HFA's changing business model as the music industry moves online.

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IT staff turnover is "probably my most significant issue right now and has been for the past 12 to 15 months," Trebino says. "It puts us in a really uncomfortable position to have this kind of turnover because knowledge keeps walking out the door. We invest in training people and bringing them up to speed to where they need to be, and boom they're gone. That has been my biggest struggle and concern."

Can you keep your IT staff in 2012?

Trebino isn't the only CIO finding it hard to retain younger IT professionals.

"They are looking for much more aggressive career development opportunities and the ability to learn new things quicker," says Lily Mok, vice president at Gartner for CIO Research. "Traditionally, it took two or three years for a person to move up into the next level in an organization. They want to be on a faster track than that. They don't want to stay in one spot for more than 12 or 18 months."

Even when CIOs promote 20- and 30-somethings, they often don't have loyalty to the organization, Mok says.

"Don't expect them to stay with you 15 or 20 or 30 years...That's not going to happen," Mok says. "They will stay with you as long as they see certain things, including personal growth or personal value enhancement, whether that's financial reward or career aspirations. But only think about being able to retain them for two or three years. If nothing happens, they will leave after their first year of employment."

Network World spoke recently with Trebino about the turnover he is seeing among his younger IT professionals and the steps he's taking to retain these workers.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

What trends are you seeing in terms of IT staff turnover?

It's been very mixed because I have two different development teams. I have the core developers, the RPG and LANSA developers, and they have five, 10, 15 years with the company. They are very well entrenched, they understand the music business, they understand the technology, and they understand how we relate to the music business. On the Java side, everyone right now has been here less than a year. We have excessive turnover for my Web-based team. It's a younger workforce. They have different needs, different requirements and different desires than our slightly older workforce. I'm seeing them being much more [transient.] It's much more challenging to get the newer generation of folks interested in trying to understand the business vs. looking only at the technology.

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