An Absence of IT Talent

As the depressed economy lurches along an uneven bottom, I have been trying to selectively upgrade key areas of our team with new talent to get ready for the eventual recovery.

We are training our existing staff in technologies that will progressively reduce our operating costs, but I had been expecting to find experienced workers to speed up the familiarization and assimilation process.

It’s not happening.

Not only am I not finding the people I need, some of the few that I have recruited aren’t sticking around for very long. This is troubling.

Whenever we’ve looked to hire new staff–in good times or bad–we’ve been deluged by resumes of people who did not seem to have read the requirements. It’s as though someone is running a search-and-match engine that uses any vague similarity between what we need and what a candidate claims to have done.

Our own scanning technology eliminates a lot of these resumes. (I have never liked automatic filtering much, so we look at some of the automatic rejections to make sure we aren’t missing a hidden gem.) But we still waste a lot of time screening candidates by phone and in interviews. The technologies we use are very sophisticated and we push them extremely hard. All of our hires have at least four years of hands-on experience, usually more, and the 10,000-hour rule really does apply.

Of course we recognize that there is a need–and a place–for less experienced people, and we have openings for them, too. But not at the compensation level that some seem to expect after a couple of years of lightweight experience and rapid job-hopping.

So, two questions: Where are all the good people? And why are we seeing so much turnover in a supposedly poor job market?

I’ve been looking at these issues for a few months now, and I’m starting to see some patterns, if not answers, in our data.

First, a lot of people are going freelance. I can rent them, but not hire them. They don’t seem to care about (or maybe believe in) “corporate” benefits such as health insurance or 401(k) plans or even performance bonuses. If they have a hot skill, they are willing to roll the dice on being able to keep busy even in bad times.

I have employed several people who work this way. The arrangements can be mutually beneficial, but the complexity of managing a work force that’s less “loyal” (and less accountable) taxes our managers and systems–and may not be sustainable in the long term.

Second, a lot of the skills we need are scarce, and the people who have them–and have jobs–seem reluctant to move, even for more money. Other employers I have talked to see the same thing and most are willing to match an offer to keep the skills in-house.

Third, those who are willing to move keep on doing so. Even if I find someone who will quit to join us, he or she is probably going to do the same if another offer comes along.

It’s as if the available population is dividing into three groups: independent, static and mobile. I really haven’t seen this before–especially not in the three past recessions I have had to manage through–and it’s causing us to rethink some of our resourcing strategies.

When you’ve built an operating model that depends on ready access to skilled technologists and the skills aren’t there, problems loom. We’ll need to get ahead of these challenges quickly if we are to build an organization that’s ready to grow when the recovery arrives.

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