Why Do Tech-Support Responses Often Seem Slow?

By Eric Chabrow  |  Posted 08-30-2007
There's a reason why that wait from the help desk takes awhile. There are just fewer computer support professionals in the United States.

A CIO Insight analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data shows that the number of computer support specialists has declined nearly 12 percent since the beginning of the decade. That figure jibes with a survey of CIOs issued this week by the IT employment services firm Robert Half Technology. The 1,400 polled business-technology executives say their companies' technical support teams, on average, are 40 percent smaller than they optimally should be.

The CIOs deemed the ideal employee to tech support staffer ratio was 82 to 1 while the actual employee to tech support staffer ratio was 136 to 1. Both ratios were mean responses. Survey respondents worked for companies with at least 100 employees.

Robert Half Technology executive director Katherine Spencer Lee, in a statement issued with the survey findings Wednesday, said companies experiencing growth can't keep up with increasing employee need for technical or help-desk support. And, with a dwindling pool of computer support specialists, companies find it harder to hire IT support staffers. "Employers are now using multiple recruiting tactics, including placing want ads in a variety of places, networking and enlisting the help of a specialized staffing firm to help ensure a consistent pipeline of talent," Lee said.

CIOs from companies with at least 1,000 employees were closest to their ideal level of technical support, with 118 employees to every support specialist; the ideal ratio for these companies would be 82 to 1. Furthest from their ideal were CIOs from midsize firms with 250 to 499 employees; they averaged 131 workers for each support staffer versus their ideal of 64 to 1.

The government defines computer support specialists as those that provide technical assistance to computer system users. They answer questions and/or resolve computer problems for clients in person, via telephone or over the Internet.

In the four quarters ending this past June, the most recent available data, 308,000 people held computer support specialists jobs in the United States. That's down 4.3 percent from 322,000 for the same period last year, a 4.3 percent drop, and from 349,000 in the same period for 2001, an 11.7 percent decline.

No doubt the decrease in the number of U.S. computer support specialist is due, in part, to offshore outsourcing as well as a growing number of sophisticated software tools that allow individuals to diagnose and sometimes solve for themselves their tech problems. Still, that's little comfort for the employee who needs her laptop serviced immediately because it won't boot up.