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IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths

IT pros are starting to feel disposable. Wake up, IT leaders: Relationships like this don't survive.

as they can to earn more money. You can't hang onto them. The most talented people in the middle IT management ranks get poached by rivals. Talent is a constant worry, CIOs say.

On the other hand, mid-career IT pros tell me they have so much to offer CIOs and IT teams, if only they could get past the initial HR and recruiter screens.

In my opinion, these two groups -- companies crying shortage and mid-career IT pros searching for work-- must find new ways to come together. The tech industry must take a cold, hard look at how it is treating its people. 

The current IT career path and hiring situation is not good news for the mid-career pros or the new grads, reader TerryB points out. "You can't keep up as an IT person anymore, it is not possible. I just laugh when I see all these self-professed experts on security, mobile development and (my favorite) cloud. You're an expert? Really? And exactly how did you become an 'expert'? Schools don't have experts teaching in very many places. You didn't read yourself into becoming an expert. The only true experts were just poor saps like ourselves who found themselves thrust into the bleeding edge of one of these technologies and learned enough to complete a project."

Smart IT leaders know that diverse teams, ones with people of varying ages, backgrounds, and experiences, yield great results. The strengths of one person compensate for the weaknesses of another person. Get the team in balance and watch the successes bloom. I have heard smart CIOs describe this as team texture, others talk about a team as needing a "portfolio" of talent. Teams are not one-dimensional, and teams must be built.

Has that knowledge been lost, or abandoned, somewhere on the race to agile?

While Hollywood convinces people that rock-star developers are all 28, male, and living in California, we know the truth: Some rock-star IT people are well past 40, wear high heels, and live in flyover country.

While some CIOs gripe that they can't recruit top talent because they have to compete with the Facebooks and Googles of the world, not everyone wants to work at Facebook or Google. Many talented IT vets would happily put down roots at your far-from-the-Valley manufacturing company and work loyally for you -- if they could expect some loyalty in return. Both sides must pitch in to make this relationship work.

Maybe the ugly truth is that employers just want someone cheap, some readers commenting on our story suggested. Where does your company run intro trouble? On low-cost contractors? On inexpensive H-1B hires? On a staff that lacks a longer-term commitment and goal?

I have a feeling that two to three years from now, more than a few companies will regret not having carried a team of experienced, flexible, dedicated IT pros who could have morphed into multiple roles and kept on succeeding. But that's cold comfort to IT pros looking for jobs right now.

Reader BobC513 says: "Companies would do better to stop looking at developers, admins, architects -- anyone in the IT services stack -- as fungible resources to plug in and out of projects as needed. Instead they should be building teams that can work together over the long haul. This grates against the acolytes of The Bottom Line because employees are expenses to be minimized, not assets to be utilized at their greatest potential."

None of us are naïve to the financial pressures that every company faces. But IT leaders, you can repair the IT talent relationship before it shatters. You can reshape talent strategy.

Or, you can watch the smartest, best people walk away, and watch young people pass up IT entirely. Because the best people won't stand for being treated as disposable.

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