If you truly want to understand the chaotic nature of America's economic recovery, especially in the tech sector, think hard about three words: Quitting. Confidence. Fear.
Quitting is the biggie, because it's a window into why, for many of us, the Great Recovery continues to gnaw at our guts late at night. By virtually any measure -- the unemployment rate, the Nasdaq Composite Index and other economic indicators -- the recovery in tech since the "official" end of the recession in June 2009 should be cause for celebration. The fourth-quarter 2012 tech unemployment rate was 3.3%, compared to 7.8% in the overall economy. Job creation is surging: Far more IT jobs have been added in the 45 months since the recession's end than at the same points in the 1991 and 2001 recoveries.
Read the full report: Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2013
The problem? Experienced IT professionals aren't quitting their current gigs to take the new jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks "quits" among people working in professional fields and business services. In 2007, leading up to the recession, about 5.7 million professionals -- 32% of the professional and business services workforce -- voluntarily left jobs. In 2012, three years post-recession, we saw about a 26% quit rate among the same workers.
Why are so many people staying put? The answer doesn't seem to be a lack of confidence.
My company, the online tech careers service Dice.com, asked more than 15,000 IT pros about their career plans for 2013. Four in 10 told us that they plan to change jobs in the year ahead. And 64% expressed confidence about their chances of landing a favorable position this year.
Read those numbers together and you see that a tremendous number of tech workers want to quit, and most believe they can advance their careers by doing so. So, why don't they quit?
My answer, in a word: Fear.
Anyone who has ever tried to coax a child into a swimming pool has seen confidence and fear do battle. There's big talk and swagger, a shallow end that looks inviting -- until the brave risk-taker reaches the water's edge. That's when what seemed like a great idea gives way to weak knees.
The tech recovery circa 2013 appears to have put people in that same conflicted mindspace. That means trouble not only for employers who want to hire the best so they can innovate their way to growth, but for an economy that requires worker movement to add to GDP.
What's the answer for a workforce where nearly half the talent pool wants to quit, but only a quarter do? One school of thought is money: 67% of Dice survey respondents said the search for higher compensation was driving their decision to change jobs. And more than half of the Computerworld Salary Survey respondents who said they're looking for new jobs cited a desire for higher pay.
I think overcoming fear requires more than cash and perks. "Soft" motivators -- challenging assignments, flexible schedules, recognition from management, telecommuting options -- also resonate, particularly among those who are less experienced. Money isn't irrelevant, but getting someone to quit a job often requires changing his heart more than changing his salary.
In an economic recovery where the whiff of fear lingers, the employers and hiring managers who get the best people will be the savvy few who learn to create confidence in the many.
Alice Hill is president of Dice Labs and managing director at Dice.com. You can follow her on Twitter (@DiceTechJobs).
This story, "It's time to catch your own wave, people!" was originally published by Computerworld.