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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Computer workers reap the benefit
IT workers in demand
Would you like a job where a personal fitness trainer comes as part of the package or where an acrobat might liven up the workplace?

It's not as unlikely as it might seem - such is the shortage of IT experts that hi-tech companies are having to go further than ever before to attract and retain staff.

The economy and the spread of internet start-ups has fuelled the shortage of available staff. Global demand for information technology workers has outstripped supply.

The government is already changing the work permit system to help the UK attract more overseas talent.
Fitness centre
Companies are working out new perks

At AIT Group, which designs financial software in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, the emphasis has been on creating an atmosphere that will help retain staff.

The company employs the skills of a performance artist. Richard Layzell has brought in acrobats, dressed dummies as security guards and even used a musical vacuum cleaner to give workers a lift.

Lindsay Anness, AIT marketing and communications manager, says: "Over the years we've developed a culture in the company that has helped us to retain staff.

Shedding staff

"We lose about 12% of people a year compared to an industry average of 25% and we've kept 90% of our graduate entrants for around five years. Usually, people lose graduate recruits after two years."

The company also offers an hour's personal fitness training per week, team breaks involving anything from flotation tanks to playing the drums and company parties at which all staff decamp to venues such as Paris and Brussels.

IT employees ... can call the shots over the perks they want

Martin Couzins, Computer Weekly Xtra!
"Staff shortages in the IT industry are good news for IT employees. The upshot is that they can call the shots over the perks they want," says editor of Computer Weekly Xtra!, Martin Couzins.

"The more common perks include pensions, healthcare, cars, share options, flexi-time or a corporate box at a football ground.

"However, companies such as Oracle provide a benefits cafeteria system in which employees are awarded points with which they can purchase the perks they want. These include extending annual holiday and life assurance for partners.

"Wacky perks"

"More wacky perks include an on site pub for employees and, in the US, the provision of wellness rooms where staff can get a power nap."

Tim Conway of the Computing Services and Software Association - which has 700 member companies employing around 300,000 people across the UK - says: "IT professionals such as designers, integrators, technical architects and consultants can earn 400 a day as freelances.

"But we also know that people are very concerned about attracting and retaining staff. It's no longer about money alone."
Tropical island
Computer workers enjoy a honeymoon period

He said a recent European summit was told that the UK was short of about 220,000 IT workers, and that the figure could rise to more than 330,000 by 2003.

That could mean companies resorting to more unusual perks, catering for the so-called "time-poor" employee, says Mr Conway.

And if where the USA goes first, Europe follows, it seems likely companies will have to develop American-style methods of keeping talented staff happy.

These include walking dogs, cleaning houses and clothes and a so-called concierge service which helps overloaded workers plan their lives.

The Washington Post reports that an employee at America Online called his concierge, saying that he was getting married in two weeks and hadn't planned the honeymoon.

The concierge duly arranged a flight to Miami for the couple, selecting luxurious accommodation and booking a Caribbean cruise.

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