Talent management and development are seldom listed as goals in IT strategic plans. However, is it time for this to change?

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

February 21, 2024

5 Min Read
talent building blocks
tomeru via Adobe Stock

In 2021, Gartner reported that 64% of companies it had surveyed said that a shortage of technology skills was impairing business growth. In 2022, the UK State of the Nation Report concluded that 76% of companies it interviewed reported that they lacked digital skills.

Then, in 2023, eight out of 10 technology leaders surveyed said that they were having to prioritize the upskilling of their employees. Now, in 2024, LinkedIn has reported a demand for IT skills in AI, cloud computing,  cyber security, data science and other IT areas.

Suffice it to say that having the talent to perform the jobs IT is expected to do is a continuing challenge for CIOs. Yet few, have formal programs in place to address it.

Instead, what CIOs and IT managers continue to rely on is posting open positions in IT job markets and looking for internal staff members who demonstrate the moxy to step into new roles.

Both efforts are laudable, but they don’t seem to be solving the talent shortage. Are there other possible approaches?

Yes, there are, and CIOs can start by developing an end-to-end talent management strategy that addresses every aspect of talent management, from hiring and skills development to team compatibility, career advancement and talent retention.

Let’s break this down.

Related:CIOs Can Build a Resilient IT Workforce with AI and Unconventional Talent

Include Talent Management in the IT strategic plan. Most CIOs have already identified the IT talent needed to support enterprise business direction. They’ve also listed it as a key risk factor that could impact projects if the talent isn’t found.

However, CIOs can go further by creating a formal talent management program and listing it in their strategic plans. The CEO, human resources, and the board are likely to already be open to this strategy, because most already see a dearth of technical talent -- from engineering and product development to customer service technicians and IT.

An IT talent management strategy would go beyond just hiring new people into open positions. This goal would be end-to-end, from hiring new talent to internally train staff into progressively more technical positions, and team building and finding ways to get valued IT staff members to stay with the company long term.

Use innovative hiring approaches. Companies commonly post open positions in IT job markets, but there are other ways to acquire talent, and to build IT bench strength, too.

One is by systematically developing a “farm system” where IT collaborates with local colleges, universities, and trade schools. CIOs (myself included) have successfully used this strategy, and this is how it works:

Related:Pursuing Nontraditional IT Candidates: Methods to Expand Talent Pipelines

You volunteer yourself and/or members of your senior staff to meet with local educational institutions as they work on their IT and computer science curricula. You actually can influence what is being taught because educational institutions are striving to understand what industry needs so they can successfully place grads in jobs.

When we met with the college teaching staff, we would tell them what we’d like to see taught, and we would then offer guest lecturers or labs in classes. Working alongside professors, we selected students for IT internships with our company and put them to work on projects where they earned college credit.

By employing students as interns, we could identify the highly promising ones and offer them full-time employment upon graduation.

This was a win-win for everyone.

Train to immediate project needs. Let's say you might need a network specialist who understands cloud security in your next project, but you might not be able to hire that person. The fallback is to train someone on your staff to do this work.

When this happens, IT departments usually send someone off to obtain a certification in the area where skills are needed. Unfortunately, the knowledge gained immediately starts to erode if it is not put to work right away.

Related:Skills-Based Talent Practices: Rethinking Workforce Aptitude

The key to preventing this is to align the timing of the training with the start of an actual IT project where the newly acquired skills can be promptly applied to real work. When you do this, the employee gains real-world confidence in the skills learned while the employee’s ability to do actual project work produces a positive ROI for the training investment that was made.

The key is aligning the timing of the training with the actual project start. This alignment can be defined during the project formulation stage.

Focus on talent retention. In 2023, Robert Half reported that 46% of employees surveyed said they were looking for other employment. While salary and perks were often mentioned as reasons for seeking greener pastures, so were boredom, lack of internal career advancement opportunities, poor company culture, lack of recognition, unhappiness with management and company direction, feeling overworked, and lack of work-life balance.

Each employee is unique, so it’s unrealistic to expect IT leaders to meet everyone’s concerns. However, an active employee engagement and retention strategy helps. It should be integral to every IT department’s planning and operations.

This employee retention strategy should include a well-articulated career and salary advancement ladder for technical personnel as well as managers. Open communications between and among all levels of the organization should be an IT aspirational goal. Feedback in the form of formal and informal performance reviews should be done on time. And project and workload staffing should strive to place employees in their best “spots” (based on interest, aptitude, and experience) to succeed.

Finally, IT should maintain metrics on the talent that it hires and the returns from performance of new employees, and also on employee retention.

Summary Remarks

Talent management is an end-to-end strategy. It has its own life cycle of talent hiring/onboarding, talent development, talent deployment, and talent maintenance/sustainability (i.e., retention). It’s also a strategy that IT should formalize in its strategic plans and operations, because the cost of replacing a key IT contributor can be as high as six to nine months of that person’s salary  in the form of  recruitment, onboarding, and training costs.   That doesn’t even take into account the risks of project delays, missed business goals that are dependent upon technology implementations, and declining morale among IT staff.

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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