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Is it getting even harder to recruit and retain tech talent in Virginia?

By Melissa Jezior

Our offices are located on “ground zero” of Amazon’s new HQ2 arriving soon in Virginia. We’re literally in a building the online retailer reportedly soon will occupy—so we have an up-close view of the decided excitement about the company’s arrival.

Crystal City—historically a haven for government contracting companies—already is transforming into a cool and trendy neighborhood. Now re-branded as National Landing, drab buildings have been magically colorized, new construction is accelerating, and more restaurants and shops are popping up. In fact, it looks like the Amazon footprint is starting to take shape with news that Amazon has not only has signed leases for existing office space, but also has agreements to buy two newly-constructed buildings that soon will break ground. So there’s that excitement.

get ready for Amazon HQ

And of course, there’s big enthusiasm about more jobs, especially good paying tech jobs.

With news that Amazon has pulled out of its HQ2 plans in New York City, there’s even more job buzz with speculation about whether at least some of the 25,000 positions designated for Queens will shift to National Landing. Already, the agreement in Virginia calls for Amazon to hire 400 people this year and another 1200 in 2020. By 2030, that number is expected to increase to upwards of 25,000.

But alongside the enthusiasm, however, there is a decided air of worry among local employers—especially those already having a hard time attracting and hanging onto their employees.

Like the rest of the country, the Washington metropolitan area has low unemployment. The Washington region’s February unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, down from 3.7 percent. In Virginia, the unemployment rate sits at 2.9 percent, lower than the national level of 3.8 percent. That’s great news, unless you’re a local employer with many jobs to fill and staring at 25,000 or more jobs coming to the region. The situation will be for more complicated for companies who now will be competing with Amazon for tech talent.

Stay or go?

Nearly three out of four IT workers in the D.C. area would consider leaving their current job to work for Amazon.

It’s not just an IT thing

More than half of all local employees say they would consider leaving their current job to work for Amazon

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting D.C. Metro Area Workforce Survey Amazon HQ2 2018

This tech talent competition is becoming a bigger challenge because technology now drives nearly all industry business models, customer service and organizational efficiency. A shortage of tech talent is no longer a tech industry issue – it’s an issue for virtually every industry – from banking to healthcare. And it’s significantly harder for companies outside of the tech sector – of which there are many in the D.C. area – to attract top workers when the technology darlings like Amazon seem to have a competitive edge in landing the best and the brightest people.

In fact, our research found that nearly three-fourths of technology workers in the Washington, D.C area would consider leaving their employer to work for Amazon. About half of all workers (51 percent) say they would consider leaving their current job to work for Amazon, with the percentage even higher for Millennials (60 percent).

Wow, right? Looking at these numbers, it’s easy understand why local employers are worried. On the upside, our research also found that employees choose to stay with an employer when they like their company culture, are happy and engaged on the job, and feel they have work life balance.

Top 3 reasons why people would go

Of workers who said they would consider going to Amazon, the top 3 reasons why are:

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting D.C. Metro Area Workforce Survey Amazon HQ2 2018

Top 3 reasons why people would stay

Of workers who said they would not consider going to Amazon, the top 3 reasons why are:

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting D.C. Metro Area Workforce Survey Amazon HQ2 2018

All of this means that area employers need to dig deep now to understand what drives employee satisfaction, then deliver what their workforce wants and needs. Questions my fellow local employers can ask now are: What makes employees happy in their jobs? What can we do to help employees better juggle work and personal obligations? How are stress levels? Do we have a culture that empowers our workforce? Do employees feel fairly compensated? Getting this insight can be accomplished through employee conversations and surveys, and you can believe we’re doing that here.

The bottom line – yes, it’s only going to get harder for local employers on the human capital front. But companies that are forward-thinkers today around their workforce for tomorrow will be positioned to attract and hold onto their star employees when Amazon moves in.