As the tech industry faces an increasingly urgent talent shortage, a growing number of employers are poaching talented workers from their competitors. It’s no different than continuing to fish in a small pond: there just aren’t enough fish, so for hundreds of hard-to-find skill sets and experience, stealing has become the primary strategy.

For many hiring managers, this has led to a new anything-no-holds-barred ethos when it comes to finding the tech talent they need. Some companies are they pay candidates just to appear for interviews. And with the new norm of working from home, the biggest companies can compete with small local firms to hire tech workers in the most coveted markets at the lowest costs. Many tech workers now benefit from national competition — or even an international market — for their services, making the competition even more fierce.

Few employers feel this more acutely than technology service providers. Tens of thousands of companies offer services in every major technology group and in every industry. And dozens of giant system integrators like Infosys, Accenture, Wipro, PwC and Deloitte offer every technology solution for every possible business product, process and problem. These companies employ millions of trained technical workers and assign them to work on behalf of clients.

Increasingly these days, their talent-starved clients seek to hunt down that talent themselves. Unfortunately, the biggest, most established service providers make it crystal clear to customers that it’s poaching verboten meaning these smaller companies often find themselves at the mercy of bigger fish who desperately need their talent, regardless of what their contract may say.

For tech service providers, poaching is a flaw in their model, something they’d like to eliminate if they could. But sometimes, when there are bugs everywhere, the right answer is not to constantly squash them, but rather to open a bug museum, charge admission and make a lot of money.

This is the path that several service providers have taken. Optimal Healthcare IT, a healthcare and staffing consulting firm (and an Achieve portfolio company), works with hospitals and health systems on electronic health record systems like Epic and on other technology suites like ERP and ServiceNow. Their work targets a particularly acute talent shortage, as there are few training programs or pathways specific to healthcare IT platforms. Optimum itself has seen a number of high-performing consultants leave the firm to work for clients. But last year Optimum decided enough was enough and released a new one hire-train-deploy way to see if it is possible to solve both their own talent shortage and that of their clients at the same time.

This is how the program known as Optimal career, works: Optimum hires new and recent college graduates from partners like the University of North Florida and the University of Colorado at Denver with health IT capabilities but who don’t yet have the right technology skills or experience. Optimum then takes them through a fascinating apprenticeship training programme. Upon successful completion of the training program, apprentices are assigned to client projects. After a year or two, clients are not only allowed to hire the new talent, they are expected to do so.

In CareerPath’s first year, 100 apprentices completed the program and were placed at hospitals, health systems and provider clients. That’s 100 new, trained and certified tech workers in a talent-starved ecosystem. Two-thirds of them are from communities historically underrepresented in the tech industry. Optimal plans to expand CareerPath to thousands of new consultants each year.

By building an engine for healthcare IT talent, Optimum can turn the tide on the problem of talent poaching. Encouraging its clients to hire talent on CareerPath is now a feature of Optimum’s model and a significant point of differentiation when competing for contracts with other service providers. According to Optimum CEO Jason Jarrett, “leading with CareerPath has opened the door to dozens of potential new clients looking for a pipeline for new healthcare IT talent.” A bonus, he added, “is not having to have conversations with clients about contracts , which forbid them to take our talent. Because that’s the whole point of the CareerPath model.”

Optimum is not the only organization to try this model. FDM Group and Revature, software developer staffing companies, have scaled to thousands of placements annually with a hire-train-deploy approach. In April, a similar IT staffing company, SkillStorm, acquired a smaller recruiting and training business called Talent Path. As the tech talent gap widens, business is booming.

In a job market that shows no signs of easing anytime soon, technology service providers may want to rethink their approach. Instead of zealously trying to protect the talent they have and keep fishing in the same small pond, a better strategy may be to invest in and build a new talent engine and turn the mistake of losing tech talent into function.

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