School Library Journal, May 2000
I don’t know any place in this country that isn’t suffering from the shortage of competent computer technicians. Librarians, teachers, and administrators all know the value of the guy or gal who can get that temperamental, but critical machine up and doing what it supposed to do. But like most school employees, our techs are overworked and underpaid.
Yet we’ve had the good fortune to hire and keep most of these valuable folks. Here are some practices that might help your school do the same:
1. Pay a competitive salary. Or be very flexible.
Administrators don’t always understand why a “technician” should be paid more than a “professional” teacher. Well, it’s called a free-market economy. When skills, like materials, are in short supply, their value increases. And good techs are in short supply, indeed. New Jersey Institute of Technology maintains an interesting website with the results of salary surveys for computer professionals at <http://www.cis.njit.edu/~moyers/databases.html>. Check to see what the real world is paying in your area.
Clever places can and do compensate folks in other ways as well. Mankato schools don’t pay top dollar (we hardly pay bottom dollar), but we can be flexible with hours and days worked. This gives us a larger pool of skilled workers from which to draw, including computer science college students. We also offer comp time so long as it is well-documented.
2. Provide great training opportunities and encourage professional growth.
More than most of us, technicians realize that additional training to develop new skills is a real investment – in oneself. In no field does one’s skill become more dated, more rapidly than in the computer science field. Generous training opportunities – school financed, of course – benefit both the tech and the institution. Oh, while we pay for the training, we ask that the techs pay for any tests needed for new certifications.
3. Supply the tools needed for the job.
Our techs have their own workspaces, decent computers, and the proper tools for the job. Those tools include not just screwdrivers, chip pullers and line testers, but manuals, telephone extensions, and diagnostic software. While as a true Minnesotan I can repair almost anything with duct tape alone, I do realize that the proper tools make the job much easier.
4. Give everyone decision-making power.
There is nothing more demoralizing to a technician than having a Dilbert-esque pointy-haired boss making ill-informed decisions that make the job more difficult than it has to be. There are days that I am sure my techs are convinced that I don’t know my ASCII from a hole in the ground, but they also know that I seek, hear, and value their advice. Again, there are more ways of showing people that they have value than just money.
5. Keep everyone in the loop.
If the techs are going to help give good advice, it means they need to be aware of the “big picture” as well as the details. When folks understand the educational goals behind the decisions made, it gives a higher purpose to one’s job. For example, knowing that involved parents can significantly improve school performance, maintaining that website or email server becomes important. I believe that education really is a calling, an avocation, and that both teacher and technician can truly be educators.
6. Defend and respect your technician.
Unfortunately, most of us are not in a very good mood when we need the services of a computer technician.
- The computer just crashed and I don’t remember when I last backed up my files.
- The printer isn’t responding and I need that worksheet for next hour’s class.
- The whole class is ready to do research and the Internet connection is down.
7. Keep in touch with reality.
It’s not always easy to remember, but life continues even when not everything is working. A sense of perspective on everyone’s part can lead to a happier work environment and happier workers all around. I help my technicians do their best, to strive to provide good service, to use good communication skills, to anticipate problems before they appear, and to meet both professional and personal goals. The reality is that the satisfaction from doing a job well and being perceived as important for many of us is preferable to the higher remuneration in the stress-filled world of corporate America. Capitalize on it.