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“Hire for attitude, train for skill.”
“Hire for cultural fit, train for skill.”
We hear these ideas all of the time from hiring and recruiting experts. But the truth is, it’s often imperative to hire for skill—especially for tech roles.

Here’s a quick story that’s highly revealing about why training for skill can be a bad idea. An HR technology company we know is aiming to put out a new product in time for the HR Technology Conference in the fall. To achieve this goal, the company recognizes it needs to hire another developer, one capable with the PHP web application framework Symfony.

A talent supplier suggested a candidate, saying the individual met all of the technical requirements. “This is the guy. Hire him.” The engineering team looked at his resume. They see he graduated from college with a computer science degree just a few years earlier, and are skeptical, as there’s a big leap from being an expert from a textbook to successfully programming enterprise HR technology software. They set up an interview anyway, and finally got the candidate on the phone. They spent an hour and discovered that their hunch is right. The candidate has potential but doesn’t have the skills or experience they need. The talent supplier says, “Just give him two weeks and if it doesn’t work out we can find another candidate – but we’re confident it will work.” The engineering team said no, with one developer and potential future co-worker to the candidate telling the company CEO, “I don’t think you’re paying me to run a university here.”

And the company’s not. It’s paying the engineering team to get the new product completed expertly and on time. And it doesn’t want progress slowed, or even stopped so that a new developer can be properly trained. As a result, the company is smartly hiring for skill and experience, and being choosy in its efforts to find the right person.

Workforce Planning for Critical Technology Projects
When you’re conducting critical technology projects, you need to have the required talent with the right skills or the projects likely will fail. This means that it’s imperative to identify any potential points of failure from a workforce planning or staff allocation perspective, especially within your IT department. After all, you can’t afford for these projects to fail.

For effective workforce planning of your tech resources, consider following these three steps.

  1. Perform an inventory of your company’s in-house technical expertise and experience. Knowing which skills and competencies your tech team members have enabled to you both allocate them effectively, and to identify any needed or lacking skills.
  1. Determine what expertise is needed to carry out your business-critical technology projects. If your current talent doesn’t have the necessary skills to deliver the results you need, then you’ll know that you’ll need additional resources. It’s also a good idea to look ahead to future business-critical projects to have an idea of upcoming talent needs you’ll have.
  1. Have a viable backup plan for supplementing or replacing technical team members. What will you do if key people leave in the middle of projects or if projects require more people than originally thought? This is the question your backup plan answers. You need to know what you’re going to do and be confident that those actions will prevent critical departures or additional talent needs from hampering the projects. Some examples of possible backup plans: using a particular staffing company, an IT services firm, or a consultant who specializes in the technology that you’re relying upon.

The Third and Fourth Platforms
One way of determining how important effective workforce planning is for the success of a business-critical project is to evaluate whether the required technical skills to complete the project are difficult to find or in high demand.

The computer platform model (coined by International Data Corporation) can help here. We will explain how in a moment, but first, let’s look at the platforms:

First Platform: Mainframe computers (1950s to present)
Second Platform: client/server (mid-1980s to present)
Third Platform: social, mobile, cloud and analytics (early 2010s to present)
Fourth Platform: no clear definition, but many experts say artificial intelligence, quantum computing, Internet of Things (present to future)

The good news for projects in the first and second platforms is that many IT workers should be capable of helping. So it should not be overly difficult to find tech talent with sufficient relevant skills and experience, which means that attitude and cultural fit can be important parts of your hiring decisions.

Business-critical projects, those that are most likely to bring revenue to a business, are much more likely to be associated with the third and fourth platforms, as these are the platforms of innovation today. The skills associated with these projects aren’t widespread, so it can be highly challenging to find the talent that you need. As a result, effective workforce planning is imperative for these projects. And, when you do add tech talent to your team for these projects, you absolutely should hire for skill. Because skill is what you need.