IT's Talent Shortage

By Edward H. Baker  |  Posted 10-06-2006

All the recruitment and retention issues that affect corporations as a whole—the brain drain, employee restlessness, finding and keeping your best people—also affect corporate IT departments. But IT has some special challenges that set it apart from other business units.

First is the problem of recruitment, which has suddenly gotten much more difficult. Says Kate Kaiser, an associate professor of IT at Marquette University's College of Business, "Between 2001 and 2005, the number of students graduating in IT-related disciplines has dropped significantly. Right now we have very few. They are nowhere near meeting demand." She reports a drop in enrollment in IT courses of as much as 50 percent between 2001 and 2004; meanwhile, CIO Insight's own research shows that 45 percent of companies plan to increase the size of their IT staffs in the next year, while just 12 percent plan to decrease them.

As to retention, Kaiser believes many IT departments have burned a lot of bridges. During the bad times between 2001 and 2004, she notes, IT departments didn't think retention of IT professionals mattered much, given how many fresh bodies were out there to choose from. But that was "really dumb," she says, "because people remember how they're treated."

Who should CIOs focus on keeping? Robert Morison, an executive vice president and director of research at the Kingwood, Texas-based Concours Group, suggests focusing on the skills and experience IT departments need to keep in-house. "The real problem with the brain drain is not so much the loss of specific IT skills," he says. "What you really don't want to lose are the people who have a lot of local knowledge and local relationships, who understand the business well, and who have good working relationships with the customers of your computing services. You don't want half of your relationship managers to retire in the next three years."

Kaiser agrees with that analysis: "The people you do not want to lose are the key mid-level positions such as senior systems analysts, project managers, IT architects and relationship managers. They already know your industry and your business, and they've already proven themselves as team players."

Finally, Kaiser notes, it's critical for CIOs to take into account the growing differences between older and younger workers. "People in their twenties have a different view of work-life balance, and companies are going to have to engage them more and be more accommodating. One of the big issues they'll have to address is the fact that this generation just isn't that work-driven."