While the tech industry is booming, finding talent can prove to be a challenge for smaller businesses, particularly when they’re based in small cities.
Tami-Rae Clements is a founding partner and COO with NetSet, a telecommunications company based in Brandon, Manitoba. She has experienced first-hand the trials that come with establishing and developing a tech business.
NetSet’s parent company, I-NetLink Wireless, was established in 2001 with the modest goal of providing Brandon’s bedroom communities with high-speed connectivity. Since its inception, the company has grown from eight employees to over 100, ranging from executives, tower riggers, technical specialists, help desk employees, salespeople, and administrators.
We spoke with Clements about the NetSet’s growth, and using culture to attract good people to a smaller city.
How did NetSet get its start?
The main shareholder, Charlie Clark, has been quite a prominent businessman in Brandon for many years. I came to work with Charlie through a company called Informetrics. We started NetSet with a few other people, and it just kind of took off.
I think the reason that we’ve done so well is that we’ve grown as an organization by surrounding ourselves with individuals who are extremely smart and talented, and we work as a team. It’s not the Charlie and Tami show. Hiring is very important in making sure that you get the right people in place, because we wouldn’t be here today without all the staff that we have.
What qualities were you looking for in your staff?
It’s funny because when we started, we weren’t the sexy business in town – we were the crazy people building little towers out in the middle of nowhere. At the start, we were working with more of the diehard techies – the ones that liked to be on the bleeding edge of technology and wanted to invest their career in a business that wasn’t your typical bricks and mortar store.
There were lots of times when we tried to hire very talented people and, to be honest, they wouldn’t come to us because they didn’t know what we were about and what kind of company we were. We had to work very hard to get into the market and be taken seriously, which obviously has happened because we now have tons of people applying. But back then we just went by passion — knowing that someone would get up in the morning, show up to work, and give it their all and be committed to the company.
How has that recruitment process changed over the years?
For more tactical workers, like in our help desk, competition has significantly increased over the years as there are lots of help desks around and lots of companies that provide the same kinds of wages we do. To stay competitive, we’ve focused on creating a very comfortable environment for people to work in. We designed our building to be highly functional but still enjoyable (with staff amenities, areas that encourage creativity, and family friendly spaces). We also try to provide staff with skills training and education opportunities. As part of that, we’ve heavily invested in creating very detailed training documents.
The worst thing when you start a job is feeling like you’re drowning, so we’ve worked very hard to get people prepared and ready before they get on the floor. All of this helps with recruitment and employee retention.
Does this approach have to change when hiring upper management?
We’ve had to use recruitment companies for some upper management positions, but we have been able to attract quite a few people through the industry. It still is about passion, but at a certain point you also need to have the education and experience — the ability to deliver.
Overall though, we are a company that encourages thinking outside of the box, and not being afraid to offer one’s opinion. So, when it comes to hiring executives, we’re always looking for people that understand our mission, philosophy, and culture.
Do you have trouble finding people who have the right technical background when you’re based in a smaller city?
It can be a bit challenging, sure, but again, by developing and focusing on our company culture, and the quality of life in Brandon, we’ve been successful.
Our culture, in fact, is admired by many that come to our office and spend time here. We are extremely close, and very family-oriented – we understand that family life is just as important as work life, so we offer after-school, in-house daycare services for all staff. We also encourage people to work “smart and not hard,” so that they can go home every night to be with their families. In turn, staff are very dedicated, and very happy to be brand ambassadors, which is invaluable when it comes to recruiting.
Did you have much managerial experience prior to starting at NetSet?
Before NetSet, I’d been hired through a couple of investors to set up a new computer store in Brandon. I hired the staff and I got the vendors and suppliers in place. That company is still going today. Prior to that, I was a manager in a computer company. I’ve always been bossy.
What did you learn about managing a team through those experiences?
You can’t think you’re a better person than anyone on your team. Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do. Be prepared to do everything that they do, but hold them accountable and set an example.
Do you have any advice for managers working in the tech industry?
To be perfectly honest, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I still don’t have it right. I used to think I was the queen of hiring, and could read anybody and know where they fit. But people will surprise you.
You have to find the right fit for the right person – don’t put a round peg in a square hole. But more importantly, you also have to be give people the opportunity to grow and develop. Don’t stifle your staff.