At Birmingham-based construction firm Brasfield & Gorrie, information technology staffers have developed a safety application that allows the firm’s safety team to manage safety walks and monitor deficiencies and report the data in a dashboard that helps leaders address trends across jobsites. Another mobile app developed in house, Connect, ties together multiple technology needs in the project lifecycle, including preconstruction, resource management, internal project dashboards and communication, says Rickey Whitworth, director of IT architecture at Brasfield & Gorrie.
While construction is hardly a new industry, its leaders — like Brasfield & Gorrie — are harnessing modern technology to improve their work. Across all industries, even those that would be considered traditional, such as construction, banking and utility services, information technology is a valued skill and IT pros are in high demand.
Essential to customer retention
In the financial services field, for instance, customers want increasingly advanced digital services — which means that financial institutions need tech employees who can make those services happen.
“To meet the needs of today’s customers, we are consistently working to be quicker to market with the types of new and innovative services people expect,” says Amala Duggirala, enterprise chief information officer at Regions Bank. “We must respond to, and anticipate, our customers’ needs. And we must constantly provide a positive customer experience. All of this is putting a greater emphasis on technological solutions. Technology gives banks a key competitive advantage; when it’s easier to bank with us, and when we offer the modern services that better meet your needs, that sets us apart.”
While highly qualified IT staffers help companies like Regions provide better services to customers, the solutions they provide can also help the organization operate more efficiently, like the IT pros at Brasfield & Gorrie. A robust technology department has become increasingly important for organizations in all industries to better serve their customers and perform their jobs more efficiently.
Adaptability is premium
Regions looks regularly for IT talent in three key areas: security engineers to protect customers’ information; front-end developers focused on designing features that thrive online, on mobile and everywhere, and enterprise data and architecture professionals who can focus on reusability and create technological solutions that can be applied enterprise wide. “I look for engineers who are focused on agile techniques, on test-driven development and on enterprise thinking,” Duggirala says. “And I always want security-first thinking.”
At Alabama Power and parent company Southern Company, recruiters frequently seek entry-level to seasoned technology professionals for positions such as project managers, IT security and cyber security analysts, IT field ops technicians, network engineers and application developers.
Brasfield & Gorrie has made significant investments in software developers over the past couple of years, and technical support positions remain the company’s primary hiring need. And as the company grows, it is currently working to expand its business intelligence team, Whitworth says. “Many of our other positions start out in technical support and then transition to other areas,” he says. “We are also hiring a lot of developers as direct hires, and network and systems engineers are also needed.”
While each type of business has specific IT needs, the technology field changes so quickly that sourcing professionals who have an ability to learn and adapt is often just as important as having specific skills. “The types of information technology professionals we look for are people who are advanced in digitalization technical skills,” Duggirala says. “The agility with which we need to respond to customer needs totally changes the landscape of traditional software development versus agile software development. That is, we need people with skill sets that are much more advanced, nimble and hands-on. We place a greater emphasis on mobile, Java and full-stack development skills. That is where the need is increasing.”
At Southern Company, which recently acquired AGL Resources, now Southern Company Gas, recruiters look for people who can help the company reach its goal to build the future energy, according to Bonnie Parker, technology business partner at Alabama Power. “We seek not only qualified and talented technology professionals, but those who also embrace and possess an innovative spirit to move our organization forward,” she says.
Tight in-state talent pool
For some Alabama companies, filling open technology positions can be challenging. For some positions requiring specialized skill sets, there is a “small talent pool of individuals with skills needed for the available roles,” Parker says. “[And we have a] tight labor market; it can be difficult to find qualified technology professionals in Alabama.”
Of those who are qualified, many technology professionals look to startups or digital-only firms to launch or grow their careers, so it can be tricky for legacy companies to attract top talent. For years, Brasfield & Gorrie has relied on its robust internship program to source up-and-coming construction professionals, and recently, the firm has begun using IT internships to locate promising technology graduates, Whitworth says. Also, its in-house recruiting team sometimes relies on outside recruiters for highly technical positions.
Other successful strategies for recruiting talented technical professionals include getting involved in online tech forums and on college campuses. “We have to immerse ourselves in the environments where the best technology minds come together,” Duggirala says. “In addition to college programs, technology conferences and similar forums, there are also code-a-thons, where industry leaders — such as the best coders in a certain area — gather to be presented with complex challenges and then solve those challenges. It’s a place where the brightest technology minds can shine. It’s also a place where we can share with these experts what Regions is doing to evolve, innovate and meet the needs of not only today’s customers, but tomorrow’s customers as well. It puts us on their radar. And it shows how Regions is committed to technology and is providing a positive work environment for people whose skills can help us continue to differentiate ourselves among consumers.”
Alabama Power recruiters also attend conferences such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Parker says. They are also active on LinkedIn and career sites, such as Indeed and DICE, and rely on referrals from current employees.
As technology permeates modern business and life, it has become increasingly important as a competitive advantage for most companies. And gaining that advantage depends on each company’s ability to recruit and retain cutting-edge IT professionals. For instance, for banks and other businesses that provide products similar to those of their competitors, “the differentiation really is how we provide those services and the ease with which we provide them,” Duggirala says. “When we make it highly intuitive, and when we understand the pulse of the customer, we can offer the types of strong digital products that give us a greater competitive edge. What we create, the speed with which we create it and our ability to understand the pulse of the next-generation customer are keys to standing out in the marketplace.”
Nancy Mann Jackson and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.