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How Rotational Programs can assist with IT Workforce Development

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IT Workforce Development is a key issue for most organisations today, especially those planning forward for when the economic slump is over and organisations start looking for growth once again.  Even in the economic slump, IT skills are in short supply.  So what should organisations be doing to prepare themselves for the turnaround?

One little used method that can really work well for IT Workforce Development is the Rotational Program.  A Rotational Program is a specific program of development that rotates participants between various departments of an organization or between various roles within a single department.  It takes participants through a range of assignments that provide the scope, challenge and experience to help build and fast-track their business career while providing the skills and competencies needed by the organisation.

Internal Development is more Cost Effective

Consider the graphic below:

(Source: HCMI)

This graphic, from an actual case study, shows the compounded savings over a period of 10 years from developing Customer Service Representatives vs external recruitment.  The broken lines depict the internal growth and development and the solid line depicts the cost of external recruiting.  The difference between the two (i.e. the area between the two lines) depicts the compounded savings over the period.
These savings more than justify the cost of running Rotational Programs in organisations.

How do Rotational Programs work?

Many organisations have used Rotational Programs for internships and graduate recruitment programs.  In these programs new recruits are brought into the organisation and rotated through a variety of jobs over a set period, generally 18 to 24 months, at the end of which they should have a better idea of career paths and jobs available to them on a permanent basis.  However, the principle of Rotational Programs can, and arguably should, be applied more generally through the IT organisation to establish a competency base within the IT profession.
In the case of IT, the following process for setting up and running a Rotational Program is recommended.

1. Understand the Environment

The first priority is to understand and map the Career Paths available in the organisation, specifically those leading to positions where skills are scarce.  The next step is to understand the Competencies that need to be developed for each stage (job) of the Career Path, and to understand how these Competencies may be developed through training and coaching.
All managers in the Career Paths need to not only be amenable to the concept of a Rotational Program, but also need to be good Coaches.  This requires evaluation and development to ensure that, once on the Rotational Program, the employee receives the best attention available.

2. Plan & Design

For Rotational Programs to succeed, it is important to get all affected areas of the business on board – from CEO to all levels of Line Management.  Without this support it will be a constant struggle to allocate resources.
A key component in setting up a Rotational Program is to create the structure itself.  This structure will largely be derived from the Competencies identified in each Career Path identified as well as specific goals set (or Key Performance Indicators) for each job in the different Career Paths.
As well as Coaching, Relevant Management will need to be trained in the development and management of the Competencies and goals identified.  Ensuring that Line Management take ownership of key roles and responsibilities ensures that the program will move forward smoothly once in place.
Once the plan and design are in place and relevant management trained, the participant selection and preparation can commence.

3. Participant Selection and Preparation

The aim in participant selection is to get a match between the individual’s aspiration for career and the organisation’s need for capability.  In general selection is aimed at the Talent Pool – that is, employees at junior, mid- and senior management levels who have been assessed and identified to be part of a succession planning and capability building process.
The selected employees, in conjunction with the line manager and the head of business, select a potential career path – or even paths.  The selected career path is then mapped to the present position giving a spiral route to the target role rather than a vertical route – hence job rotations.  Each assignment should be limited to a period of time, generally no more than 3 years and no less than one year.

4. Implementation and Monitoring

It is then the role of HR to “partner” with the relevant management to ensure that the development takes place, that participants are being coached effectively, and that the Competencies and goals are being achieved.  Separate costs should be maintained to be able to measure the cost-effectiveness of the program and to make adjustments where necessary.

Benefits and Savings

Besides the savings depicted in the graphic above, the advantage of Rotational Programs becomes evident when the breadth of knowledge – cross-departmental and cross-business – that is developed in an incredibly short period of time.  . Program participants typically develop a great amount of diversified knowledge that otherwise may take two- or three times the time for someone not on the Program to gain.
Rotational Programs also play a positive role in IT employee retention.  The two highest needs of IT people are:

  • Challenging work, and
  • Continual Development.

Rotational Programs provide both of these at the same time.
An additional benefit is to broaden the overall business experience and understanding of the participants to prepare for future leadership roles.
For more information on creating IT Career Paths in your organisation, mapping Competency development to Career Paths and setting up Rotational Programs for your IT staff, contact us.