Tackling the IT Talent Crunch

It’s an increasingly common headache felt by executives in IT organizations nationwide: IT jobs need to be done, plenty of IT workers are looking for jobs, but the skills are not matching up.

Indeed, attracting and retaining skilled labor was the No. 1 concern of CIOs last year, according to an annual survey conducted by the Society for Information Management. In this year’s soon-to-be-released survey, SIM split attracting from retaining employees into separate items, so both experienced slippage in the ranking of top IT management concerns. Still, both remained as top 10 concerns, with attracting to IT pros falling to No. 4 and retaining IT professionals dropping to No. 8. Yet, the survey’s author contends the combination of the two might have challenged this year’s No. 1 concern, IT and business alignment, if they would have remained as one item.

Strategies for managing the talent gap, however, are plentiful. While some organizations increase offshoring and outsourcing, others train and improve the quality of life for their existing employees to reduce turnover. Still, others resort to canceling or postponing projects until the talent can be found to execute the plan. In the end, most companies employ a hybrid version of all these strategies.

Whatever the means, the issue will remain a top priority as the hiring landscape for IT workers continues to leave employers with empty chairs: Baby boomers are expected to retire over the next 10 years, and young people are not pursuing careers in technology, leaving a talent gap that will undoubtedly cause CIOs problems for the next decade and beyond.

Yet there are lessons to be learned from industry leaders who are taking action now to address the challenges of finding the right hire today and a setting up a fully staffed IT department for the future.

The first step is getting the best applicants to come in for the job by offering the fundamentals in job postings. A competitive salary is a given, but equally attractive to talented workers is training, presenting opportunities to develop professionally and a good work-life balance.

Outsourcing eases the pain for most companies. Shops like Robert Half Technology provide skilled talent on an as-needed basis, and if a specific skill set is needed, the staffing firm will train its consultants to do the job for its client without charge, says Jenifer Mauney, a vice president with Robert Half. Businesses either use company consultants to develop a new project or to man the maintenance positions while the permanent staff works on the new project. Right now, demand is hot for skills like Web 2.0, business intelligence, data warehousing and virtualization, so Robert Half is continually training staff in those areas to meet the industry’s needs.

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