April 24, 2000
IT Talent Shortage Renews Interest In Mentoring
Companies find links between age-old practice and employee retention
By Talila Baron
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Technology companies, hit hard by the shortage of IT workers and desperate for ways to retain the talent they have, are at the forefront of this renewed interest. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Lucent Technologies are actively recruiting employees into such programs. Others companies, including HP, Intel, and National Semiconductor, are going a step further, extending mentoring programs to high school, college, and even grade-school students and teachers, with the hope of encouraging interest in IT careers and expanding the future talent pool (see story, "Need IT Talent? Cultivate Your Own").
"A strong correlation exists between mentoring programs and employee retention," says Gail Holmes, CEO of Menttium Corp. in Minneapolis, which designs and executes mentoring programs. "IT talent, in particular, is in such high demand that an organization can't afford to lose these employees to a competitor. Mentoring translates into long-term viability, profitably, and shareholder value because that organization won't have to constantly replenish its staff." Companies that can demonstrate a dedicated interest in the career development of their employees may have a better chance of attracting, retaining, and developing top-notch talent, Holmes says.
Mentoring has traditionally provided companies with a way to help new employees quickly acclimate to a new corporate culture. It has also been used to foster personal and career growth and to expand opportunities for those hampered by organizational barriers, such as women and minorities.
Preparing future leaders is the goal of Lucent's Information Technology Leadership Development Program. Through the program, Lucent identifies and develops talented IT professionals. The protégés are matched with senior mentors for a one-year relationship in which the mentor provides career guidance. The program attracts network engineers, technical managers, and middleware developers, as well as nontechnical support staff.
The benefits for participants can be tremendous, says Marcin Manikowski, a service delivery manager with Lucent. Manikowski monitors and coordinates services at Lucent's IT department in Warsaw, Poland, including user services, networking and processing, new equipment ordering, repairs, application development, and maintenance; he also manages agreements with business partners for those services.
"I learn from my mentor's experience," he says. "I have the opportunity to be more visible in the organization, to network, and to learn about trends and resources within the company. My mentor also helps me choose career tactics by giving me feedback."
The program also helps new hires assimilate quickly, says Kerry Ryan, portfolio manager in Lucent's Service Provider Networks Group in Warren, N.J. "At many companies, it's the responsibility of new employees to guide themselves and find mentors, which is tough inside a large organization," says Ryan, who's in charge of developing and implementing the IT portfolio management process, which includes establishing procedures and metrics to track all application-development and maintenance projects. "Having a formal program sends a clear message: It means the company sees value in me and is ready to guide me in my career from Day One."
Mentors also benefit from such a relationship, says Hugh Sheridan, acting CIO for Lucent's service-provider business. Sheridan has mentored more than 100 employees during his career at Lucent and other companies. "Mentors learn how to communicate better, get insight about other business units in the organization, and become recognized as teachers," he says.
A mentoring program lets HP save on the cost of hiring new employees. HP's 8-year-old Accelerated Development Program is a yearlong program that combines development planning, mentoring, leadership workshops, and external education to groom IT and non-IT midlevel managers. HP spends an average of $30,000 to $35,000 to put one employee through the program; this year, 106 employees are enrolled.
Investing in high-potential employees is critical, says Paulina Mustazza, portfolio manager at HP. "To be competitive, you have to attract and retain great talent," she says. "Your employees need to see they have a range of development opportunities, strong mentoring and coaching programs, and a structured approach to their career development." While HP has no hard numbers, Mustazza says, it would cost considerably more to hire new people at senior levels, since it would require giving them more expansive benefits and higher salaries. "It's less expensive to invest in the talent you already have," she says.
At IBM, an initiative called the IBM Executive Resource Program has been particularly helpful to women in IT. Through the program, the company identifies high-potential employees and grooms them for executive-level positions in various business units. The program has provided positive role models and new opportunities, says Diane Hill, a principal with the transitions project office of IBM Learning Services in Charlotte, N.C. Hill's organization provides IT consulting and educational training, assessment, and certification for IBM employees and customers.
"IT customers are typically male, and sometimes they second-guess women," Hill says. "It's important for women to have positive role models in leadership positions." Women are still underrepresented in IT, Hill says, and are also unsure of the opportunities available to them in IT, "so it's crucial to continue to encourage and elevate women through mentoring programs."
Hill's participation in the program led to her current job, which she landed because she worked on a high-profile project with her mentor. She created a plan to help IBM Global Services continue to grow, attain the right skill sets, keep costs down, and build customer loyalty. She's creating a similar plan for the learning-services division.
IBM has also created the Women of Color and Women in Technology subcommittees, the Mentoring and Employee Development Program, and the Global Women's Leadership Conference, which encourage women to network and form mentoring relationships. "The advancement of women is a core issue," says Maria Ferris, manager of global workforce diversity initiatives at IBM. The initiative has helped IBM increase the number of female executives to 508 today from 185 in 1995.
Participants say there's a right way and a wrong way to mentor. Before starting work, the mentor and protégé must ensure it's the right match from the perspective of time commitment, personality, and goals. Mentors also say it's important to listen to the protégé, rather than take on a purely pedagogical role.
A focus on personal--as well as professional--development is crucial. Says IBM's Hill, "A good mentor should be your confidant, and should be willing to talk to you about your development and your decisions at work, not just the business at hand."
Illustration by Cindy Revell
Photo of Hill by Milton Morris
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