Customize the pace of your IT career

Computerworld Canada – If, in the course of a day, people customize the things around them -- how they take their morning coffee, how they assemble their outfit -- then they should surely be able to apply that approach to their career.

That's what Deloitte Canada talent lead Tracey Wallace is asserting. That concept, she said, is the foundation of a career tool called Mass Career Customization (MCC) developed by the Toronto-based professional services firm that just might help counter the skills shortage witnessed in recent years.

"We make the argument," said Wallace, "that if they can customize everything in their life... customize their coffees, their running shoes, the colour of their M&Ms, why wouldn't they customize their career?"

Historically, said Wallace, a female employee in mid-career choosing to focus on raising a family and entertain a reduced work schedule would have no recourse but to leave the organization altogether. But today, continued Wallace, as organizations become more accommodating of flexible work arrangements, tools like MCC can allow that employee to "dial down" the pace of her career.

That could mean decelerating her career by working fewer hours, restricted travel, and/or moving from a leader role to an individual contributor. "Mass Career Customization addresses that chasm between the employer and employee needs," said Wallace, adding that while organizations have been successful around implementing flexible work arrangements like flex time and reduced hours, it hasn't been widely adopted.

Giving employees the option to dial down their careers is key to employee satisfaction and therefore retention of valuable talent during a time when talent is scarce, said Wallace.

But MCC isn't just about dialing down a career. It's also the option to "dial up" a career against those same dimensions. A recent MBA graduate who's unmarried with no kids, or a person whose kids are grown up and moved out, said Wallace, may opt to take on greater accountability, more of a leadership role, and travel more.

Wallace said that while MCC is a process on paper, it's essentially a dialogue between employee, manager and human resources and is "meant to foster good communication between all parties."

The tool works particularly well for the IT industry, said Wallace, because unlike retail or banking that requires people on location to serve customers, IT is a segment of knowledge workers where "you've got a little bit more flexibility in terms of where work is done and how work is done."

Terry Power, president and chief operating officer of Toronto-based IT staffing firm Sapphire Technologies Canada Ltd. thinks that MCC offers an element of flexibility that will make organizations more attractive for employees to want to stay.

However, he added that the skills shortage "is such an issue that most things of a positive nature like this can help. But I don't think it's a panacea by any stretch."

That said, organizations do need to offer flexibility and creativity if they want to retain their talent, said Power, especially in light of new factors affecting the talent market. Baby boomers, for instance, who had planned on 15 years of retirement are not only living longer, but in light of the unstable economy are opting to remain in the workforce, albeit on a different work schedule.

But Wallace cautions that MCC isn't for all organizations. While it's not the appropriate solution for those suffering from decreased revenue or inefficient processes, it is well suited for organizations with low employee engagement scores or retention issues.

However, MCC still must complement, and be supported by, a human resources framework, said Wallace, because areas like compensation, vacation policy, performance management will be impacted as well. "So you have to think about the implications it has in the organization," she said. Power agreed that MCC necessitates a progressive human resources framework.

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