How top employers keep IT staffers happy

"In some form, our IT group has been around for 50 years," says Jean Delaney Nelson, vice president and CIO at Securian Financial Group Inc. "And we've never laid off an employee."

In a fluid era marked by outsourcing and offshoring, those words are sure to grab the attention of IT professionals. And once St. Paul, Minn.-based Securian grabs, it hangs on. The financial services firm, which changed its name from Minnesota Life last year, boasts a 97.9 percent IT retention rate. Small wonder, then, that the 400-worker IT group ranks No. 13 on this year's list.

Interviews with Best Places IT organizations uncover few secrets but much common ground where employee retention is concerned. The keys are careful hiring, a commitment to promoting from within, tireless training and -- perhaps most important -- challenging projects that offer workers the chance to handle hot technologies. Great benefits don't hurt, either.

Hiring and promoting

It's easy to tune out when top executives talk about all the effort they put into hiring the right people. But our research indicates that Best Places companies do more than talk. For example, Securian says 95 percent of its present IT staff members were entry-level hires. Coupled with the company's high retention rate, this stat proves that it promotes extensively from within.

Anna Sullivan has worked at Securian for 12 years. A senior systems analyst, she says the company is tireless when it comes to staying current on technology. "I bet I've taken 50 to 75 training courses here," Sullivan says.