The IT Talent Crunch – Are Companies To Blame

The IT talent crunch – Are companies to blame

In order to survive the IT talent crunch, companies need to stop looking for people with particular certifications or technical talents and seek technical people who are willing to learn. According to Patrick Gray; who is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group.

Like a migratory bird that returns to its seasonal nesting grounds on a recurring basis, talk of a skills shortage in the IT industry is once again on the lips of CIOs and industry pundits. Technology titans point at the educational system and lament the lack of new math and engineering students, and fund programs to try and swell their ranks while expressing disgust at the current dearth of “talent.”

Rather than blaming poor school funding or singling out students of particular nations as particularly talented in particular disciplines, the CIOs voicing these concerns need to first examine their own hiring practices.

Remember 2000?

14 years ago IT was a hiring frenzy. If you could spell HTML or TCP/IP you were virtually guaranteed a handsome salary and all the associated delights of the heady dot-com days. The IT HR process became mired in an alphabet soup of “certification surfing.” If you had the right acronym or other chit on your resume, you were “in,” despite your personality quirks, inability to communicate with other human beings, or eccentric behaviors. Hiring managers, of course, loved this process, since human resource decisions could be relegated to mining resume databases and a couple of phone calls rather than the tedium of interviews and due diligence.

As the dot-com bubble burst, the ensuing belt tightening left many IT staffers jobless. Young people that had been singing the praises of the IT industry were now its biggest detractors. From bitter laments to friends and family, to humorous websites mocking fast hiring and equally rapid “right-sizings,” IT ended up with a lasting black eye. Peers of this generation and the universities that educated them are not quick to forget this span of a few years, where graduates were promised (and given) the world then cast aside with platitudes about unforeseen economic conditions and the wonders of outsourcing to placate them. While these companies did what they had to do, the certification and technology-focused career paradigm they fostered has left a lingering bad taste in the mouths of many who might have chosen an IT career.

With these memories still fresh in the minds of much of the workforce, the IT industry is largely back up to its old tricks, admonishing graduates to pursue the latest technologies and allowing HR to mine candidate databases for buzzwords as if the post-dot-com massacre never happened. CIOs have largely underestimated the savvy of new entrants to the workforce, and promises of a glorious career, if only you learn the latest skills. So what’s a talent-starved CIO to do?

End Certification surfing

While it’s arguably very hard work, it’s time to return to good old fashioned due diligence in the hiring process. While HR may tell you the best way to find five new developers is to check their certifications, a superior candidate is someone with a willingness to learn, an ability to communicate, and some technical savvy, most likely in that order. The large consulting firms have done a good job of this, hiring everyone from CS grads to history majors, based not on their coursework or technical experience, but on their ability to solve problems and learn rapidly.
The pace of technological change is likely to increase rather than decrease, and quickly hiring people with the latest technology on their resume and firing them tomorrow when that technology is dated is more costly and time consuming than hiring someone with a willingness to learn. I’ll take someone from the most esoteric non-technical field that can quickly learn and articulate problems for my organization over the most sterling technical certifications any day.

To maintain this learning ability, challenge your staff to acquire and employ new skills, both technical and non-technical. Seek input from your people and push them to interact with colleagues outside IT as peers, rather than a soldier blindly following orders. Perhaps most important, develop a culture that rewards excellence. Spend time evaluating your people and providing feedback and letting them know where they stand. High performers will not hang around if you tell everyone they are all equal and all doing “fine.”

Offering opportunity and focusing on an ability to learn is hard work, but presents an IT career as a place where high performers can grow and excel, rather than empty promises of greatness that are erased during the next swath of layoffs. This process is going to take far more time, effort and money than certification surfing, but will serve to repair IT’s damaged reputation, and more importantly deliver an amazingly capable staff that will be excelling while your competitors continue to hire and fire based on the latest buzzwords.

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group, and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology. Prevoyance Group provides strategic IT consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies.

Wish You Were Here?

How will you cope with the empty office this summer? Could those empty desks be full of potential?

Summer is officially here and school is nearly out.   How will you cope with the inevitable reduction in staff numbers during the peak holiday season?  For your business, the holiday season can be a time when workload multiplies to answer increased demands.   Having a strategy to cope with either of these scenarios will help ensure key deadlines are met without overworking those left in the office.

A complete break is, of course important for the morale and well-being of both your staff and yourself.  They should come back to work relaxed, reinvigorated, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.  So… with this in mind, how can you manage this extra work whilst keeping the business running without disruption?

Research by ‘The Guardian’ into the effects of holidays on team working suggests that ‘extra’ workloads are more easily absorbed in small and large-sized businesses whilst medium-sized companies are more likely to utilise temporary or contract staff to relieve the pressure on their teams and ensure business objectives are met.

From an employer’s perspective, hiring contract staff simply makes sense in many circumstances.  Could it make sense for you?  Many businesses are already staffing up for short or long term projects without the price tag of pension, health care or other benefits.  In the current employment market, you can attract the ‘crème de la crème’, and did you know we can supply IT contract workers who can be retained for as little as a day or a week?   Contract workers can be kept on longer-term and may even be available for permanent hire.  This is a great way for both the contractor and the business to get to know each other before committing to a permanent relationship.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to be able to increase the ability and motivation of your existing team at a time they would otherwise be lagging under the strain of an extra workload?  Do you have projects that have been postponed due to a skills gap?  Why not source an IT contract worker with the specific skills you need to get the job done while your permanent employee is on leave?  High quality contract workers can bring fresh ideas to your business as well as pass on new skills to existing employees.

It’s not just the during the holiday season that contractors become a vital part of your team.  A contractor could be right for you if you:

  • Have high employee turnover due to staff burnout
  • Need seasonal help, or help with a long-term project
  • Cannot offer benefits or are not able to afford a permanent member of staff
  • Have a hard to fill position
  • Are uncertain about the future of the business or the position itself

We’ve all been there – working late during the weeks running up to your holiday to help reduce the ‘back to work’ catch-up and this pattern is often inevitably repeated upon your return. By midday on your first day back, your holiday can feel like a distant memory.  So, as a manager, director or business owner we can sometimes have business objectives affected for three times the amount of time the employee takes for leave.

Our market summary newsletters have shown that the demand for a more flexible workforce has increased considerably over the last few months, with figures released last week confirming that the economy has grown in the last 6 months, albeit gradually.  The challenge now is to maintain this pace during the second half of the year and contract positions are playing an increasingly important role in the economic recovery.  In fact 7 out of 10 companies are planning to recruit in the next 12 months.

The majority of CEO’s are looking for change within their business in response to the volatile economic climate.  They are keen to reduce costs and risk while increasing the efficiency of existing employees, putting even more pressure on you in the IT department.  Many are turning to technology as an answer.  You can use technologies such as IM Clients, VOIP calls, video chats, PM software and cloud storage to get a lot done from remote locations.  In the short-term this can save you an overhead and can also ease the pain of sick days and holidays when urgent tasks pop up.  In the long-term, hiring off-site contractors means saving on both salaries and Capex.  And did we mention that many contractors will take a lower day rate in exchange for the ability to work from home?

With the availability of such high quality skills and the potential to save money and reduce staff stress, it could be that hiring a contractor is the right decision for your business. Just think of the fresh, untapped talent that could be filling those empty desks this summer.