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10/5/2007
04:45 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: Worried About IT Talent Shortage? Do Something About It

Employers must work more closely with universities, invest more in training, and take a chance on workers they deem overqualified or over the hill.

For those of you still convinced that the IT talent shortage is a vast conspiracy to depress salaries and control the tech-literate population, consider the most recent evidence. For the first time in 10 Society for Information Management surveys, the group's executive members cite an HR issue--attracting, developing, and retaining tech talent--as their No. 1 concern.

No, those 130 CIOs and other business technology execs from 112 companies didn't assemble around a mahogany conference table and coordinate their responses. They're not attending SIM summits on how to keep the proletariat down. They're worried. Worried that their baby boomer employees are retiring and they don't have a deep enough bench. Worried that the nation's universities aren't turning out enough tech graduates to fill the void, and that the grads who do enter the market don't have the business acumen they need.

And if they're worth their executive titles and salaries, they're worried that they haven't done nearly enough to head off the situation they now find themselves in.

Many tech workers, drawing mostly on anecdotes and creative interpretations of the employment numbers and other research, claim that there's no talent shortage, looming or otherwise. But the stats and surveys don't lie.

The unemployment rate for IT occupations fell to an all-time low of 2% in the most recent quarter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and demographic data shows that more tech pros will retire from U.S. companies over the next decade than can be hired domestically, even taking into account foreign workers imported under H-1B and other visas.

Meantime, U.S. tech pros as a whole are more confident of their prospects than workers in other sectors, according to a survey released last week by staffing firm Hudson. Why the confidence? Tim Bosse, Hudson's executive VP, attributes it to strong demand for tech talent, particularly for software architects, business analysts, project managers, and Web developers.

Another indication that the tech labor pool is shallower than the general one comes from a Conference Board CEO survey released last week. While the SIM survey finds CIOs worried about attracting and keeping good people, the Conference Board survey indicates that CEOs aren't nearly so troubled by personnel issues. "Finding qualified managerial talent" is only the No. 6 concern cited by the 409 U.S. CEOs surveyed, followed by "top management succession." (Finding qualified managerial talent is the No. 1 concern among Asian company CEOs, however.)

Of course, plenty of IT pros, especially older ones, are having trouble finding decent jobs. Many of them have stopped looking and are switching careers, one reason the tech unemployment numbers, which measure only active job seekers, are so low.

It is here where CIOs and other tech employers must step up. As a whole--though with many admirable exceptions--they're not working closely enough with universities to groom young people and establish a base of skills; they're not investing enough in training and career development; they're not taking a chance on workers they deem overqualified or over the hill. And in certain high-profile cases, by their cavalier offshoring of key tech groups and positions, they're signaling a bleak future for the domestic profession.

If you're on the short end of the IT employment stick, forget about returning to the halcyon days of yesteryear. Globalization is one trend that's here to stay. But CIOs and other employers also have a responsibility to think differently--about how they hire, who they hire, where they hire, and how they treat and cultivate their people.

As a manager, if you're worried about the job market, try doing something about it. You're not just a passive player.

Rob Preston,
VP/Editor In Chief
rpreston@cmp.com

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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