Competing for IT Talent

By multiple accounts, the IT job market is at its healthiest point since the dot-com bust some six years ago.

Nearly 16 percent of CIOs said they intended to hire IT professionals during the first quarter of 2007, found a survey by Robert Half Technology released March 6, and a follow-up second-quarter survey found a net 12 percent hiring increase. The U.S. IT sector was rated the healthiest internationally in an EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) report July 11, and a report released May 9 by the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses found that IT employers had more jobs to fill than people to fill them.

In a tight and vigorously competitive labor market, many employers struggle to find and put to use recruitment tactics that will enable them to stay ahead of their competitors.
Meanwhile, the brightest IT workers, especially those with the most sought-after skill sets, can afford to be picky about where they work, thus requiring extra courting by managers, who are often not trained in the brass tacks of recruiting. The solution, according to a Forrester Research report released July 10, is for CIOs to diversify their talent pool and brand their IT based on cultural differentiators.

“Every hand in the room pops up when I ask who is concerned about IT recruiting,” said Samuel Bright, Forrester analyst and report author, in an interview with eWEEK. “But it’s often covered with issues that are just symptoms of the larger problems. For example, I get a lot of questions about salaries, and if you walk back a little bit, the question is not whether my compensation is out of line; it’s really that I’m having trouble finding people.”

On top of the difficulties recruiting and hiring within a tight labor market, additional factors further limit the depth and quantity of available IT professionals. In many ways, the field is still recovering from the dot-com bubble’s burst in 2001, and the younger people who were not scared off from technology careers would prefer to work at a big-name brand such as Google or Yahoo rather than within enterprise IT, Bright said.

Meanwhile, CIOs are expressing increasing dissatisfaction with the quality of recruits they get in the door, from résumés loaded with empty buzzwords to people who are trained in technologies they have no chance of applying. In addition, CIOs in the Forrester report said they worried about pay scale imbalances (in which premiums are paid for specific, sought-after IT skills, and current employees become disgruntled at wide pay disparities) and were frustrated with the effectiveness of recruiting firms in finding midlevel talent and the burden of geographical limitations.

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“When we look at talent management, it tends to be very tactical, but not strategic,” Bright said. “IT takes a whack-a-mole approach to recruiting, being reactive instead of proactive, frustrated that they can bring people in but can’t make them stay. Until they figure out why, they’re just kicking a can down the road.”

Karl Herleman, CIO at Miami Dade College, said he routinely has to compete with the private sector for IT talent.

“We are having a tough time filling positions due to a combination of improved conditions for IT workers and higher salary requests, which, as a college, we can’t always offer [or] compete with private industry,” said Herleman, who also is an eWEEK Corporate Partner. “We’ve been looking very hard in our back yard, to our students, and are trying to use them in creative ways. But, of course, our pattern is we hire a part-time student, they do wonderful things for us, gain experience and move into the corporate world when they graduate. Since that, of course, is our mission, we plan for that turnover, but a few enjoy the intangibles we have and stay here at the college.”

However, not all are finding the IT talent pool to be as competitive.

“We have not seen a tightened IT market except for specific programming languages,” said an IT administrator who asked not to be named. “We have found the right people; it just took a little longer to fill the position. We have not changed our recruiting. We have used college co-op students who later have become full-time employees, as well as the traditional newspaper ads and Web job postings.”

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