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CIOs Rank IT Talent Their No. 1 Worry, SIM Survey Finds

IT execs are starting to see a looming shortage of people with the mix of tech and business skills they'll need.

CIOS rank attracting, developing, and retaining talent as their No. 1 concern. It marks the first time in 10 Society for Information Management surveys that this people issue came out on top. Maybe now more companies will start acting like people really are their "most important asset."

IT talent is the only concern cited by at least half of the 130 CIOs and senior business technology executives from 112 companies who were surveyed. Next highest are IT and business alignment, last year's No. 1 concern, and building business skills among IT staff, which is among the top 10 concerns for the first time.

The concerns show business technology executives fretting about having enough people with a mix of tech and business skills. Why all the worry now? "There's not a large enough pipeline of talent," says Jerry Luftman, VP of academic affairs for SIM and associate dean of graduate information systems programs at Stevens Institute of Technology. That's especially true of entry-level people tapped to fill the void left by retiring baby boomers. Those retirees will take with them not just years of tech expertise, but also decades of accumulated knowledge about applying that expertise to a specific business and its customers.

Academia is part of the problem, says Luftman. U.S. universities and colleges are seeing declining enrollment in tech-related programs, and they aren't proactive in infusing their programs with business and other softer-skills courses to groom more-rounded tech professionals, he says.

chart: The CIO Worry List
That's partly because those who do graduate with IT-related degrees are hired quickly, putting little pressure on schools to invest in curricula that would better balance the business tech needs of employers, Luftman says. Stevens Institute of Technology, he says, is among those hesitant to make dramatic changes to its tech degree programs, as the vast majority of students land tech jobs months before they graduate.

Employers aren't off the hook, either. A recent Forrester Research report, "Skills Assessment, A 21st Century Imperative For CIOs," found that most companies acknowledge a looming brain drain, yet most have no programs to prepare for it. InformationWeek Research's annual Salary Survey this year found that of 7,281 IT pros, only 40% say they receive further education and training, and only 30% get tuition reimbursement. Hardly numbers that reflect a premium on developing talent.

Business technology pros must be feeling the rising demand for their skills: Only 17% say they worry about losing their jobs, according to a survey of 400 tech pros by staffing and outsourcing firm Hudson. Eighty percent say they're happy with their jobs.

CIOs aren't so sanguine about their own jobs. One out of five is concerned about the evolving leadership role of the CIO--how and where the CIO position fits within the organization, Luftman says. This year, 31% of CIOs in the SIM survey report to their CEOs, compared with 45% last year. More are reporting to the CFO or COO. Luftman sees in that a struggle at companies with whether they view IT as a cost center or a strategic investment.

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