Growing Your Own IT Talent

The IT marketplace is highly competitive and extremely expensive. Is it time to consider growing your own talent?

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

April 5, 2023

6 Min Read
Green plants in a row of test tubes with water
Sergey Novikov via Alamy Stock

In May 2022, it took an average of 43 days for companies to fill a software developer, product manager or cybersecurity analyst position. Other IT positions were ranging around 40 days of fill time as well, with a computer support analyst coming in soonest at 38 days.

I’ve witnessed this trend first-hand as I’ve visited with IT managers.

They just can’t seem to find the talent that they’re looking for in the marketplace -- or they can’t afford it -- so the projects that they want to staff have to wait.

This has driven me to recommend another strategy: Start growing your own IT talent.

How do you do that, and where do you start?

1. Develop from within

The first place to look for hidden talent is within IT itself.

Do you have employees who are under challenged, or who are looking for a new career opportunity? Do they have the aptitude and the will to succeed? If you move them from their current positions, who will backfill those positions?

2. Educate in the trenches

You can embellish the knowledge of employees who already have substantial experience in a particular discipline (e.g., software development, networking, etc.) by enrolling them in seminars or investing in formal certification programs for them, but for employees with less experience, it’s necessary to develop both knowledge and confidence.

Training courses and even certifications don’t necessarily do this. What inexperienced employees need is actual “in the trenches” experience in job execution and problem resolution. Once they obtain this front-line experience, and the confidence that goes with it, they will dramatically improve their skills.

3. Facilitate knowledge transfer

The way that employees pick up knowledge in the trenches is by pairing with more experienced personnel who already know the discipline the employees are trying to learn, and who are willing to guide them and teach them.

In IT, this is easier said than done.

Especially in the more technical areas of IT (systems software, networking and even applications), there are always individuals who don’t want to share. Then, there are individuals who would like to teach and share, but they just don’t have the skills.

You already know the different personalities in your IT department. If they are of the type that just throw a manual over a partition to a trainee, or who route a junior staff member to an online help page without any explanations, they should not be mentors.

The key is to uncover individuals in the organization who are technically skilled and willing and able to serve as mentors to more junior staff members.

Once as CIO, I was running an organization where we needed to cross-train individuals with limited experience so we could build our bench strength in the network group. I was lucky to have an older, highly skilled network manager who loved the idea of being able to mentor younger, less experienced staff, and who had a passion for teaching and mentoring. I realized what a rare “find” this was, but I have since come across other individuals who are highly skilled and have a passion for mentoring. These are the people who make great skills development leaders and who can assist in staff building while they continue to make their own highly valued contributions. If you have senior staff members like this, it’s worth considering whether some of their time could be committed to internal staff skills building.

4. Don’t shy away from assigning junior people to real life projects

IT is under constant pressure to complete projects in tight time frames. This usually forces IT’s hand so that it must place the most highly skilled personnel on mission-critical projects, while more junior staff is relegated to the “grunt work.”

Some of these deployments can’t be avoided -- but there is also a middle ground that can enable junior staff to work on important project tasks (and broaden their skills) without putting an overall project time line at risk.

In one case, an IT project leader placed a new hire with limited experience in application development on a very easy master file maintenance application task that was an important part of the project, but not a mission-critical part. Because the trainee was able to actively be part of a real-world project and gain experience in the project trenches, her competence and confidence developed quickly. She is a full-time developer now, and able to undertake much more complex project work.

5. Collaborate with local learning institutions

To keep their technology curricula relevant, colleges, technical schools, and universities keep their ears to the ground to see which technical skills are needed in the IT marketplace so they can better attract students.

One way they do this is by reaching out to companies to ask what types of IT skills companies need.

An IT department at a large midwestern company took advantage of this by forming a close relationship with a local college. The company told the college what types of training it needed and assisted the college in developing IT courses. It even sent guest lecturers to classes to speak about certain topics.

As part of the college’s lab exercises, the company offered several six-week internships that enabled students to gain experience in real life projects that the company was doing. This placed the company in a great position to observe the work of different students, and to extend employment offers to the best.

It was a win-win for everyone. To this day, the company’s CIO calls the college program his “IT farm system.”

Final Remarks

Most IT leaders I speak to do not place much emphasis on the internal development of employees.

They should.

By internally developing your employees, you can find ways around not being able to hire outside talent that you can’t afford, or that isn’t available at all. Investing into your own employees’ careers is also a great way to retain employees, and to build loyalty. It will go a long way toward making your company a great place to work.

What to Read Next:

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About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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