ATI President Shares Insights to Attract Tech-Savvy Talent
Rob Simopoulos, president of systems integrator Advance Technology Inc. (ATI) shares insights and lessons learned about finding and keeping the top-notch employees.
Rob Simopoulos, president of Advance Technology Inc. (ATI), a systems integrator based in Scarborough, Maine, has taken the industry’s notable lack of IT expertise and developed tangible strategies to infuse the 22-year-old company with new talent. In the following conversation, he shares his thoughts and tactics on the process.
How are you attracting qualified talent, as well as candidates who perhaps were not aware of career opportunities in the security industry?
You are hitting on a real problem in the industry. We are feeling a shortage of IT-centric systems integration technicians in the employment marketplace and this will continue if we don’t work to change it.
Most IT students don’t even know about systems integration as a career. To fix this it is going to take a grassroots effort. Here at ATI our team has been attending job fairs at universities and colleges to get in front of students with the goal of educating them about career opportunities in our amazing industry. Our goal is to start a conversation, get them excited about the industry and help them understand that there are other avenues outside a more traditional IT role.
In addition to higher education stakeholders, we have been partnering with local veteran employment organizations and attending their job fairs. We have been speaking to many skilled veterans who are trying to start civilian careers. These vets have high-level technical education provided by the military along with fantastic on-the-job training. As an example, one of our recent veteran hires came on board with electronic communications and networking background. It only took him about four months before he was promoted to lead technician and began installing his own projects.
What are you doing to attract millennials to the company?
About three years ago, we took a hard look at our talent acquisition process and developed new ways to bring fresh team members to our organization. This began with the development of an internship program. We began to recruit college and university students to intern within each of our departments, including operations, engineering and finance. Our teams attend university and college job fairs to meet the interns and introduce them to our company and industry. They are paid internships and our philosophy is to teach, mentor and train them like new, full-time employees. There is no floor sweeping or garbage duties. We want to give them real-life job experiences within the department.
One of the most wonderful things is seeing our late career team members take these students under their wings. Often we see them become very passionate about the mentoring process. We have had a number of these interns continue in full- and part-time roles.
How does their experience with IT assist with filling that void within the company?
We want IT-savvy people joining our organization. We are constantly looking for new team members who have IT skillsets, especially in our installation and remote help desk. Moving forward we see cybersecurity expertise as skills we would like to recruit to our organization. There have been some cybersecurity programs beginning to open at local colleges and having these talented students join our group would assist our organization.
Have you found anything particularly challenging about employing millennials?
We have brought on some extremely talented millennials to ATI. Some are still here and some have moved on. One of the challenges I have experienced is that many of these team members are very eager to move quickly with promotions to new roles, even if they have limited experience. As a midsized integrator, it can be challenging for us to retain these folks.
We don’t often have new roles such as management positions available and as a result I have seen them become frustrated with the slow pace of promotion or advancement. On the flipside, there have been incidents where we promoted maybe too early, only to find out that the lack of career experience ended up being a hindrance to their success. There is some truth to rookie smarts, but a lot should be given to the importance of on-the-job experience.
Can you share some advice to the integrator community about attracting a more diverse workforce?
Start your own grassroots movement and get in front of early career people. Start an internship program and groom these talented people within your organization. With the right structure, training program and mentorship, you can have dedicated team members who have been trained in your company’s methodology and culture from the ground up.
There are great organizations who are assisting in bringing students in to our industry. Electronic Systems Professional Alliance [ESPA] is bringing system integration training to colleges across North America. Also, the National Systems Contractors Association [NSCA] started the Ignite program, which is a team of industry people who are working to attract and encourage students to join the systems integration workforce.
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