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Lessons From the Web Front Lines: Attracting, Keeping, and Developing Web Talent in an Uncertain Economy - an Aquent | Monster Survey of Web Professionals

Lessons From the Web Front Lines: Attracting, Keeping, and Developing Web Talent in an Uncertain Economy - an Aquent | Monster Survey of Web Professionals image
Lessons From the Web Front Lines: Attracting, Keeping, and Developing Web Talent in an Uncertain Economy - an Aquent | Monster Survey of Web Professionals

This is a presentation of the results of a series of nationwide online surveys conducted by Aquent and Monster including Web professionals, employers and recruiters who hire Web professionals. This give a look into a lone growth area of the talent market that could be the difference between survival and prosperity in this economy and the recovery—when it happens. Uncover insights into how to attract, keep and develop Web talent in an uncertain economy.

Sample any media source at any moment these days and it will inform you of the poor economic conditions facing the U.S. Following an economic boom driven by “easy” money, escalating housing prices, and consumer spending, the U.S. economy faltered and collapsed into a downward recessionary spiral.

Consumer confidence has fallen to an all-time low and has caused consumer spending to significantly contract. To compensate for lower revenue, businesses are cutting back to reduce costs and head count.

While businesses are looking to reduce costs, they are also seeking ways to boost productivity. Leveraging the protocols of the Web has become one such popular solution.

By turning to the Web, companies are, among other things, enabled to continue to offer good customer service, drive their marketing and sales, and save on communication costs. Those using the Web are now finding competitive advantage in a market where such advantage has become critical.

For example, Macy’s holiday sales fell 4%, prompting it to announce the closure of 11 stores and lay off 960 employees. Yet Amazon.com, the online department store, experienced a 42% increase in sales and doubled its profits. Moreover, it expects its strong sales growth to continue throughout 2009.

Such a strong contrast is leading companies across most industries to invest in web assets and talent even while cutting most other expenses. To better understand how organizations are managing their Web talent during these uncertain times, Aquent and Monster initiated a major research project.

An online survey captured the attitudes and mindset of 1,030 of the workers responsible for creating and managing web sites: the Web professional. We asked them about their current positions and the future of their web careers. We discussed their compensation, how they evaluate new job opportunities, and how they stay on the cutting edge of Web development.

To contrast the views of the Web professional, Aquent and Monster surveyed 163 organizations that rely on Web professionals to build and manage their web assets. We explored their Web professional hiring intentions, how they are rewarding their Web talent, and what they are doing to support the development of this talent.

The result is broad insight into a lone growth area of the talent market that could be the difference between survival and prosperity in this poor economy and the recovery—when it happens.

“I have four kids and a wife.
For me, stability is such an
important matter.”
—Web Professional

Methodology

The findings presented here are the results of a series of nationwide online surveys.

The Web professional research sample consisted of 1,030 workers indicating they are involved in the production or marketing of their organizations’ web site(s). These responses were captured in November and December of 2008. In addition, the research analyzed the survey responses of 163 employers or recruiters who hire Web professionals. Organizational responses were captured during January 2009.

Key Findings

I. Web Organizations

  • Web organizations are being challenged to find new ways to drive sales, reduce costs, and create exceptional customer experiences.
  • More than one-third intend to increase their Web professional talent.
  • Few expect to lay off Web professionals despite poor economy.
  • Expectations differ significantly between employers/employees when it comes to hiring attributes, professional development, and workplace issues.

II. Web professionals

  • Web professionals hold the balance of power with pricing power.
  • One-half of Web professionals indicated they received a raise in the last 12 months.
  • This group is confident in the future of their profession.
  • They believe that they could find work temp/contract work if needed but prefer permanent opportunities.
  • View their current position as stepping-stone—few intend to stay in their current positions over the next 12 months

Career Outlook 2009 and Beyond

Despite poor economic conditions, Web professionals display relatively strong confidence in their ability to find jobs in their field. However, they indicate that they aspire to higher organizational levels and broader career opportunities. As such, most do not see being a Web professional as a lifelong career.

Poor economic conditions and layoffs are causing most workers to question the security of their current jobs. However, Web professionals remain relatively confident when it comes to their job security.

Over two-thirds of Web professionals rate their job security as moderate to very high, indicating a high degree of confidence in their current position.

Figure 1

Such confidence could be attributed to the ongoing demand for these professionals by organizations competing for Web development talent.

More than one-third of organizations indicate that they intend to add to their Web talent ranks over the next 12 months.

Figure 2

Only 7% of organizations suggest they intend to decrease their number of Web professionals this year. Yet another 21% of organizations remain uncertain about what their intentions are, reflecting the uncertain economy. Given the poor economic outlook, these organizations may shift their intentions toward decreasing the number of Web talent rather than retaining or adding Web professionals.

Such uncertain attitudes are driving organizations to hedge their head count plans by hiring temporary Web talent. More than 50% of those organizations intent on adding Web professionals will do so on a temp or contract basis (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

Still, almost 40% of organizations are confident enough to indicate their desire to hire permanent employees in this uncertain economy. Another 5% plan on outsourcing their Web initiatives to a third-party interactive agency.

Given the ongoing demand for Web professionals, will there be enough talent to meet this critical need? Maybe. Only 12% of Web professionals indicate they are somewhat sure that they will stay in their current positions during the next 12 months (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

This suggests that there could be an abundance of Web professionals looking for new job opportunities. In fact, 29% of Web professionals indicate that they will be “actively seeking a new Interactive/Web position over the next 12 months.” Another 20% indicate that they plan on staying in their current positions but would consider another Interactive/Web position if it were the “right opportunity.”

Still another 29% of Web professionals are suggesting they would seek new positions outside of being an Interactive/Web professional either actively (14%) or passively (15%).

Therefore, it remains unclear how many Web professionals will be available to meet organizational demand, but it is clear there is the potential for a lot of Web professionals at this moment.

We learned that 56% of those organizations looking for Interactive/Web talent plan to hire it on a temporary or contract basis. Such a status is a familiar working condition for many Web professionals.

Figure 5

Almost two-thirds of Web professionals indicate they have held a temporary or contract position during the past five years. Another 13% have had such a position in the past but more than five years ago.

Such temporary or contract work experience is giving Web professionals confidence about their ability to find Interactive/Web work during this uncertain economy.

Figure 6

Almost one-half of Web professionals report that their ability to find a job as an Interactive/Web professional is good or excellent. Even more Web professionals (52%) indicate their confidence in their ability to find temporary or contract work.

Finding permanent work appears a bit more challenging given that only one-third suggest their ability to find a permanent position is good or excellent. And permanent positions are what Web professionals prefer.

Figure 7

The vast majority (90%) of Web professionals indicate they would prefer a permanent position if they were seeking a new opportunity. However, almost half of Web professionals would consider a temporary or contract assignment.

The research suggests that most Web professionals could change jobs over the next 12 months. While this is what is expected in the short term, Web professionals’ attitudes are similar as they view their Interactive/Web career.

Only about one-quarter of Web professionals view their current position as a lifelong career. Most Web professionals indicate they have aspirations for positions beyond their current jobs.

Figure 8: Web professionals' response to "Which of the following best represents how you feel about your position?"

Almost 50% of Web professionals are seeking a more senior position than their current role. Another 30% of Web professionals suggest that their position is temporary until they get something else.

Such sentiment means we can expect Web professionals to continue to “move” their positions both within the profession and outside of it. Such churn could be due to the immaturity of the Web profession.

While other, more mature professions have clearly defined success ladders, the Web profession lacks such clarity. For example, the legal profession knows what an entry-level associate is and that career progression leads to managing partner.

Until such a progression emerges in the Web profession, Web professionals will continue to seek new opportunities to satisfy their aspirations to climb the success ladder like other workers.

Attracting and Retaining Web professionals

As we have learned from the research, Web professionals intend to change positions in the short term as well as over the lifetime of their careers. To manage this anticipated talent churn, organizations must focus on protecting their web assets (retention) while trying to attract new Web talent.

Understanding the attitude gaps that exist between Web professionals and the organizations that hire them is essential to meeting the challenges of retaining and attracting Web professionals.

We asked Web professionals to rate the importance of various work-related issues in evaluating their current jobs as well as potential new opportunities. In addition, we asked employers/recruiters how important they thought that each of the same work-related issues are in hiring new Web talent.

Web professionals and their employers agree that salary is the major for consideration when viewing a current position or a new opportunity. Stability of position is also an important topic on which they are in agreement.

Web professionals view salary as even more important when evaluating new positions versus their current roles. Such an attitude is consistent with workers in general seeking a greener pasture.

Yet such agreement breaks down as it relates to desirable work schedules and employee recognition and opportunity for career advancement. Moreover, they disagree about the importance of raises, bonuses, and paid time off.

While there is agreement about the importance of a company’s reputation in evaluating current and new opportunities, there is a major gap in mindset over a company’s reputation for innovation. Web professionals see this as relatively more important than employers do.

Table 1: Rating the importance of various employment factors on recruiting and retaining web professionals.

The continuously changing nature of Interactive/Web development makes it critical for Web professionals to have ongoing training and personal development. Yet there is a major gap in how important organizations believe the reimbursement for education, certification, and training is compared to Web professionals.

While we discovered major gaps between employers and Web professionals over workplace topics, we also uncovered existing gaps in how these groups evaluate the hiring attributes of job candidates.

Web professionals and employers agree that work experience and a specialized skill set are extremely or somewhat important to hiring a Web professional. However, employers view personality/cultural fit and examples of work as more important than Web professionals do.

Table 2: Evaluate the importance of the following attributes to distinguish one web candidate from the other. Those responding extremely or somewhat important.

And again we see differences in professional training. Certifications, training seminars, and advanced degrees are rated as more important to Web professionals than by their employers.

Major differences exist between how employers and Web professionals rate the importance of job-related issues and evaluating new job applicants.

Unchecked, such differences can create churn, as Web professionals will seek organizations that are more like- minded. Given that the balance of power in the workplace seems to favor the Web professional, organizations must work to resolve these gaps in order to retain their current Web professionals while attracting new talent.

Developing Web Talent

Research has shown major differences in how Web professionals and their employers rate the importance of professional development and training. In general, Web professionals believe such development and the reimbursement for such training is more important than those that employ them do.

New and emerging technologies and techniques drive the need for ongoing professional development by Web professionals. The vast majority of Web professionals and their employers agree that on-the-job training, the Internet, and mentors are helpful to very helpful professional development resources.

Table 3: Please indicate how helpful the following resources are in further developing your Web skills. Those responding very helpful or helpful.

However, training resources that require investment, such as on-site and online training as well as professional organizations, are thought of less as a helpful resource by employers compared to Web professionals.

Interestingly, college courses are rated as relatively less helpful by both Web professionals and employers/ recruiters. This may indicate that colleges are falling short in their ability to train Web professionals.

Despite Web professionals indicating that reimbursement for professional development is very helpful to them, only one in six organizations offers such a benefit. More organizations (69%) provide on-the-job training from colleagues.

Table 4: Which of the following does your organization offer its Interactive/Web professionals to develop their skill sets?

Web professionals view mentors as a helpful resource, and many believe it would be helpful to very helpful for an employer to provide it. Yet only about one-quarter of employers indicate they offer such professional training to their Web professionals.

Professional development is a critical aspect of Interactive/Web development. Yet employers seem to be understating its importance as a helpful resource and are undervaluing it in terms of investment relative to Web professionals. Such a mindset gap is a major opportunity for organizations to offer such benefits in retaining and attracting new Web talent.

Compensation

In a typical recession, employees tend to lack the confidence to seek new jobs or command greater compensation. However, Web professionals appear to have the balance of power and, as such, are commanding higher wages.

Figure 9: Web professioanls' response to "How has your compensation changed over the past 12 months?"

Almost one-half of Web professionals have indicated that they have had their compensation increased over the past 12 months. And almost one-third of these have experienced a raise of 5% or more.

Figure 10: Web professionals' response to "You indicated that your salary increased during the last 12 months. Why did this increase in salary occur?"

Many of these increases are due to raises or salary adjustments by their organizations. Yet 18% are due to changing jobs to a new employer, again reinforcing the “grass is greener over there” confidence of the Web professional.

The increase in compensation reported by Web professionals is consistent with organizational experience. That is, organizations are reporting increased cost to retain and attract new Web professionals.

While 43% of organizations are reporting that they have maintained the cost of their Web professional compensation, 51% are indicating that the cost of their Web professional compensation has increased. And more than 20% of these organizations are reporting an increased cost of 5% or more.

Figure 11: Employers'/recruiters' response to "Please indicate how average compensation for Interactive/Web professionals has changed at your organization in the past 12 months."

Economic and company performance and resulting layoffs are the primary reasons Web professionals and their employers are indicating any decrease in compensation. The typical norm experienced by most other professionals during this economy is an exception to Web professionals. Practical measures will define 2009.

“A market survey showed
that we were underpaying
Interactive/Web professionals.”
—Web Employer

Conclusions and Recommendations

In general, the U.S. recession has dramatically altered the workplace, shifting the balance of power from employees to employers. Fearful of their job security, employees are willing to stay in their current jobs and even take pay cuts to remain employed.

However, Web professionals have a different story. Organizations’ desire to leverage the Web to compensate for productivity lost through layoffs has made Web professionals attractive. As such, organizations need to consider:

I. Now’s the time to be hiring.

  • Aggressive organizations are taking advantage of this rare buyers’ market by going after top talent that will help them deliver results in this difficult economy. While other organizations downsize, many Interactive/ Web teams will invest in the type of Web professionals that will help their organizations drive sales, produce cost savings, and deliver exceptional customer experiences.
  • To better utilize and leverage junior staff, organizations hiring senior talent should look for excellent soft skills such as mentoring and leadership. Not only will this help organizations utilize lower cost resources, but it will also help during future talent shortages when senior talent is scarce and junior talent is all that’s available.
  • Be prepared to “sell” your brand and what it is that makes your organization so special—highlight cutting-edge work, high-visibility projects, career development opportunities, and a unique or flexible work environment. If you are working with an HR department or a recruiting service, make sure they understand your uniqueness.

II. Make sure you’re taking care of your top talent.

  • The second talent feels hindered, neglected, or that their organization lacks opportunity for growth, they start to look around for greener pastures. They feel confident they can find other jobs or contract work to escape. To avoid this, organizations must provide a secure environment for employees to develop their careers. The ideal environment is one that encourages learning and professional development while providing a clear career path and challenging on-the-job opportunities.
  • Commit to uncovering and resolving your organization’s expectation gaps that may be silently eating away at your top talent (use our analysis as a guide for where to look). Maybe it’s investing in training or certification, or showing them that you have a way to help them improve their skills by offering them new on-the-job opportunities. Cultivate a work environment that encourages learning and professional development.

About Monster

Monster®, the premier global online employment solution for more than a decade, inspires people to improve their lives. With a global presence, Monster works for everyone by connecting employers with quality job seekers at all levels and providing personalized career advice to consumers globally. To learn more about Monster, visit www.monster.com.

About Aquent

Aquent is the talent agency for marketing and design professionals. Every agent is focused on a single marketing or design discipline, ensuring both talent and clients a dedicated resource that speaks their language and specializes in their area of expertise.

Aquent helps individuals and organizations increase their marketing potential through flexible staffing solutions and customized consulting services.

For information about Aquent, please visit aquent.com.

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