Robert Rosen knows all too well the importance of the latter issues. As CIO of the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases within the National Institute for Health, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he isn't able to compete with private industry on salary. Instead, he has to sell other benefits of working for his government agency.
Chief among Rosen's recruiting bait is the innovative working environment. His employees work on the cutting edge of scientific research, so they will be exposed to new technology sooner than in private industry. And because the institute uses outside contractors for its development work, internal positions generally give to employees management-level responsibilities that they would not be able to get in the business world. Rosen also sees alternate work schedules and telecommuting as perks that attract applicants, yet don't cost a lot of money. Companies that can't offer cutting-edge assignments like Rosen's can compete for talent by emphasizing those extra benefits and paying more.
Time and again, Rosen sorts through stacks of resumes replete with misspellings and grammatical errors, and he often finds only unqualified applicants who lack the technical ability, project-management experience or the people skills he needs. However, Rosen admits that sometimes he's asking a lot of the labor pool. One position for a liaison between the lab research team and the IT team, which requires lab processing skills and IT capabilities, remains unfilled after more than two years. "In some sense," he says, "I think we're trying to hire someone who doesn't exist."
That's a big part of the problem created by the IT industry. To answer the demands of businesses trying to keep the bottom line in shareholder-friendly territory, CIOs have lost the ability to hire people with fundamental skills who can grow into a job if given the opportunity and a little time. "Let's look at how all our careers got started," Rosen says. "We didn't know .Net or Java, but we had the ability to learn and companies were willing to train us. Today, we're impatient, and we want hires to hit the ground running."