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The IT Skills Shortage Expands and Deepens

It's easy to identify the IT sectors experiencing a major shortage of skilled talent: all of them.

Pity the poor IT talent recruiter: so many job openings and far too few qualified candidates.

Competition for skilled IT workers is fiercer than ever, with no end in sight. “The entire tech sector is experiencing a skills shortage,” says Loralie Thostenson, senior vice president and tech talent officer at insurance provider Liberty Mutual. “That’s why it's important companies have a clear talent strategy with a view of the skills and capabilities they need now and anticipate the skills they’ll need in the future to keep a healthy talent pipeline.”

Coming up Short

There's a general shortage across the entire IT employment spectrum, but specifically in custom Java development architecture, AI/ML and cyber security, observes Ger Doyle, head of Experis, Digital and Business Innovation, at staffing firm ManpowerGroup.

Although there's been a substantial increase in new IT talent, it’s simply not enough, says Terry Jost, managing director and global security and privacy segment leader at global business consulting firm Protiviti. “This is a field that requires years of training, and organizations are struggling to build or supply the continuing education needed to provide training that keeps pace with new technology methods and languages,” he says. “It’s a horizontal expansion, much more than a vertical expansion.”

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Loralie Thostenson, Liberty Mutual

There was a demand for top tech talent long before COVID-19, but the pandemic accelerated many companies’ digital transformation strategies and remote work environments, Thostenson explains. These trends heightened the demand for software engineers needed to build and maintain new digital environments. “Companies have a strong need for developers, which means that more companies are vying for the same talent,” she says.

Ron Delfine, director of career services at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, says he's seeing increasing recruiting action in cyber security, data science, and AI, among many other disciplines. “New technologies and products ... continue to be introduced at a lightning-fast rate,” he notes.

Myke Miller, dean of the Deloitte Cloud Institute, observes that individuals with deep cloud engineering and architecture skills in general, and cloud engineering abilities in industrial IoT specifically, are increasingly hard to find. “Moving beyond basic cloud administrator skills and CI/CD basics to be able to leverage the most advanced hyperscaler innovations is incredibly important,” he states.

Recruiting Methods

Doyle advises enterprises facing a staffing shortage to take a multichannel recruitment approach. He recommends building a pipeline to attract students from colleges offering STEM courses, taking a balanced approach to immigration policy, and embracing intern and employee upskilling programs.

Thostenson also suggests looking inward. “Look internally within your organization to see how you can invest in your current employees to bridge the gap,” she says. “At Liberty Mutual, we’re focused on furthering the careers of our employees and creating upskilling programs for our tech employees.” Thostenson notes that these programs have been instrumental in building Liberty Mutual's tech talent pipeline and ensuring that all IT employees have up-to-date skills.

Thostenson stresses that enterprises should never lose sight of the people who are directly responsible for sustained IT success: current employees. Ensure that you're focused on making your organization a destination for existing employees, a place where they want to stay and build a career, she advised. IT experts, like most job seekers, are searching for an employer that's willing to provide the degree of flexibility that meets their individual needs and preferences. “This is true whether they are a candidate or a current employee,” Thostenson says. “If an organization is unable to provide flexibility, that could make it difficult to attract or retain talent.”

Retaining existing talent by reducing attrition can be achieved by increasing employee satisfaction, Jost says. “This ranges from managing workloads, providing a constant flow of training and education, and creating formal talent development programs to allow [staff members] who are newer to the profession to work alongside, or shadow, those with more experience.”

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Terry Jost, Protiviti

IT employees want to feel engaged, knowing that their work is making a difference. “Salaries are a factor, but we're finding that for highly skilled technology professionals, benefits such as a flexible schedule, time off, challenging work, and relationships often outweigh higher pay,” Jost notes.

The Long Haul

Successful IT recruiting during a historically tight labor market requires insight, persistence, and imagination. “It’s best not to have only one strategy to combat the shortage,” Delfine recommends.

Don’t panic, Jost warns. “Don’t make unwise investments in short-term improvements, thinking this is a short-term problem,” he says. “The IT talent shortage is an issue that will remain until enterprises either harness an increase in talent, harness more experienced talent, or until they follow predictable agile methods for developing emerging technology applications.”

Above all, reach out to and be honest with customers, clients, and other stakeholders, including enterprise management leaders. “Make everyone part of the solution,” Jost advises.

Related Content:

Ways to Fight the Skills Gap in DevOps and the Cloud

Investing in the Cybersecurity Workforce of Tomorrow

Laying Out a Road Map to Close the Cloud Skills Gap