IT's Hiring Crisis

By Deborah Perelman  |  Posted 12-03-2007
IT expected in the field over the next decade brought on by Baby Boomer retirements, professionals who have left the field and declining enrollments in computer science degree programs.

At the same time, IT is in the midst of a hiring quandary of crisis proportions, where the people that the field needs the most are the ones least interested in joining, according to several experts.

"If you ask a young person looking at a career in other functions if they would consider a career in IT, you will probably get a response something like, 'Are you crazy? I wouldn't work in IT for any amount of money,'" said Bruce Skaistis, founder of eGlobal CIO, an IT consulting firm.

Comments such as this suggest how deep the emergency runs. IT is often perceived as having long hours, repetitive tasks, little recognition and, with offshoring rampant, less job security than ever.

Skaistis said that traditional recruiting and retention advice—such as tuition reimbursement programs, flexible work schedules, retirement benefits, bonuses and training—doesn't cut it in IT. "All of these suggestions are basically band-aids and do not address the real problem—people do not want to work in IT," Skaistis said.

He said IT is stuck in a hiring rut because it is reaching out to the same populations it always has—so-called nerds. "I have nothing against computer nerds, but having too many computer nerds in IT is one of the main reasons why many enterprises think IT is not doing a good job of supporting their business and competitive initiatives," Skaistis said.

IT and workplace analysts agreed. Alex Cullen, an analyst at Forrester Research, said that too often IT thinks of itself as just "technology" and looks for the type of people they hired 10 years ago. "In the '90s and early 2000s, the IT emphasis was on the technology aspects, and the image was smart, creative people playing with leading-edge technology, at the forefront [of the] Web, etc," Cullen said. "You almost didn't need to add 'and the pay is good' to get people to flock to it. Broad exposure to technology was new, so this whole career positioning worked."

In the years since, IT has had to perform one round of damage control after another, and rarely with much success. "The layoffs in 2000-2001 and the offshoring wave did create to some extent a bad taste in many that IT jobs are going away and they are insecure and unstable," Gartner analyst Lily Mok said. "Parents who experienced and lived through the turmoil would certainly think twice about whether they would want their kids to go through the same again."

Meanwhile, IT is stuck positioning itself as technology when technology is only parenthetical to what it does these days. "IT hasn't done very well marketing itself as a career, [which] relates to the fact that it struggles to explain its value to business partners," Cullen said.