Austin has become a hotbed for technology companies. They account for one out of every eight jobs in the city, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. But a shortage of qualified workers is making it tough to fill some of those positions.
South by Southwest Interactive, currently in its second day, has brought about 18,000 technology workers to the city, and local tech firms are hoping to skim some of that talent.
About 70 companies with a Texas presence, including Bazaarvoice, WhaleShark Media and Apple, paid $1,900 each for a table at the two-day Tech Career Expo at SXSW. Many of them saw it as a small price to pay for a chance to lure digital talent.
Besides competitive salaries and bonuses, some of the perks potential candidates were offered include free food at work, gym memberships, unlimited vacation hours (“within reason”), game rooms, happy hours, snacks, and world class benefit packages.
Pam Berzins, a recruiter from Bazaarvoice, said salaries in Austin are even more competitive, when compared to the cost of living in New York or San Francisco. She said sometimes the hardest sell is convincing someone in a coastal metropolis to plant themselves in the middle of Texas.
“We really try to get our candidates engaged with other employees while they’re here, so they can experience Austin while they’re in the town,” Berzinz said.
That’s one of the virtues of South by Southwest, according to Hugh Forrest, director of the Interactive conference.
“It’s just shining a bigger light on Austin,” Forrest said. “Showing how many people across the country and around the world how cool a place Austin is. And every year after South by Southwest we get people who want to move here and end up moving here.”
It’s music to the ears of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, whose priority is promoting economic development.
“Our large employers say they’re still able to hire the talent they want. The small and medium employers or startup companies who don’t have the extensive HR department, or recruiting department or relationships with universities need to have a little bit of extra help,” Chamber vice president Drew Scheberle said.
But one recruiter says being small can sometimes work to a company’s advantage. Winston Binch with the advertising company Deutsch LA was on a panel today called Help Wanted: Hunting High and Low for Digital Talent. He said the number one thing employees are looking for is not a six figure salary or free food or a gym membership.
“Respect is number one. That’s what they want,” Binch said in an interview after his panel. “You’ve got to create conditions and an environment for that. Not just giving them a pat on the back, but also allowing them to speak their mind, let their ideas be heard, and really create an open culture.”