What are the arguments for hiring entry-level IT workers?
I hear from many readers about this column and the Enterprise Careers section. One of the clearest messages I’ve gotten is that people who feel left out of the IT job market are sick of hearing that companies have trouble finding skilled workers.

A few weeks ago I presented one IT manager’s perspective on the issue of hiring entry-level workers. This manager said that, although he recognizes that this makes life difficult for entry-level workers, the reality is that many IT departments can’t afford to hire someone who can’t be productive immediately. (See “The harsh reality of IT hiring leavesentry-level workers out in the cold.”)

I asked readers whether there is a case to be made for hiring entry-level workers. Many who responded said they could see both sides of this dilemma; about half of them offered persuasive arguments for hiring workers with little or no IT experience. I also heard from more than a few frustrated job-seekers who agree that managers are reluctant to hire entry-level workers and wonder how they can break in to the field. This is a subject I covered throughout March in this column.

Even those who wrote in support of hiring entry-level workers held varying views about when it’s appropriate to do so. Several readers said that the manager I quoted was right for smaller companies, but not for larger ones.

“Small IT departments don’t really have a choice,” one reader wrote. “They need to hire experienced people, typically the best they can afford to pay for. On the other hand, the larger IT departments are probably making serious strategic errors in this regard.”

The reader said that at large companies, hiring managers are often too busy to get involved in the hiring process, and they delegate too much of it to the HR department.

Another reader took the small company/large company distinction even further.

“The delimiter I have used is a team size of five,” this reader wrote. “A team of five or fewer members is too small to sustain the work required to bring an entry-level person up to speed. But I have managed larger groups with seven or more people where a novice is easily absorbed. The key is to make sure that the whole group helps develop the person and that there is a clear career ladder for the novice to advance through. A larger group is often inundated with many trivial tasks that can be used by a novice for learning purposes, and the more experienced person gets to delegate something.”

Not all readers were as understanding of the manager I quoted. One, for example, took him to task for suggesting that one reason not to hire entry-level workers is the toll it takes on the rest of the staff to work with and train an unproductive team member.

“[The manager] is failing to recognize the impact on the IT staff of trying to find an experienced employee,” one reader wrote. “If the position goes unfilled for a year because they won’t hire an entry-level employee, they will be shorthanded for that one year.”

Another reader offered several reasons (other than money) that entry-level workers make good hires: They are often willing to do the less glamorous work; they are not yet disillusioned with corporate life and are more easily molded to your company’s culture; and they don’t have the attitude that “at my old job we did it this way.”

Finally, one reader said that companies can’t afford to lose sight of the big picture.

“If an organization isn’t doing entry-level hiring, you need to take a long, hard look at overall staff development planning and question the company’s commitment to the career development of their employees,” the reader wrote. He said that he likes to hire entry-level IT employees from other departments within his company, because they have already shown that they are loyal and hard-working.

“If you haven’t got members of your team at various levels of experience, your organization is out of balance,” the reader continued. “The passion and excitement of learning new things is contagious, and it reinvigorates the more experienced employees, encouraging them to learn more about their respective disciplines as the new folks learn their jobs.”

What do you do to encourage your employees to learn new skills? Does your company provide a clear IT career path?

Career Current appears courtesy of InfoWorld. Margaret Steen has edited InfoWorld’s Enterprise Careers section since its inception and has worked as a high-tech journalist since 1994.

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