Many employers are complaining about the lack of skilled information technology (IT) professionals. Unfortunately, the magnitude of the problem is only going to increase. Why? Demographics. Between 1946 and 1964, 76.4 million Americans were born, making the baby boomers the largest generation this country had seen so far. They are estimated to make up about a whopping 40 percent of the workforce. The boomers have begun to reach retirement age with about 10,000 turning 65 each day until 2030. That’s a lot of skilled workers leaving the labor force.
Their logical replacements should come from Generation X. Now in their mid-30s to late 40s, they are approaching the prime of their working years. Unfortunately, at only an estimated 41 million, their numbers are dwarfed by the baby boomers. That shortfall is particularly problematic in the IT sector, which is already experiencing a skills shortage. There is no denying that the 35 million-person shortfall between the boomers and the Gen Xers will have an impact. The result – a severe labor shortage is just a few years away. And chief information officers will feel the pain. Yes, the millennial generation will contribute workers, but they won’t have the numbers to fill the demand because so many of this age group are still in school or too early in their careers to have the skills needed.
Owning the process CIOs will have to use every weapon in their arsenals to recruit and retain the talent they need to keep their technology systems operating at peak efficiency and competitiveness. With their jobs on the line for delivering projects on time, meeting budgets and building competitive advantages from what are increasingly larger capital expenditures, many CIOs will want to reinsert themselves in – if not directly own – the talent-acquisition process. At a minimum, they must not only be active in recruiting efforts, but be in control of them. The wholesale outsourcing of talent acquisition to another department may not work in this new environment of scarce talent and it is fraught with risk for operational executives. The more removed and detached CIOs are from the recruiting and retention process, the more they will suffer the consequences of the shortfall.
Consider that Dallas is one of the hottest IT recruiting markets in the country, ranking seventh nationwide in the number of related job postings, and you can better understand the depth of the problem that CIOs will increasingly face in the next few years. They need to develop a comprehensive plan for recruiting and retaining candidates and identifying future talent. For recruiting, CIOs must acknowledge that during a talent shortage they won’t find the perfect candidate. They must be willing to hire the person with the most skills and qualities they need and be willing to train or rearrange job responsibilities to play to the candidate’s strengths. And delaying a hiring decision to see whether someone better comes along will only hurt more. Qualified candidates will be hired quickly so a slow or bureaucratic hiring process will promote the pain.
Once they hire skilled IT professionals, employers need to worry about keeping them happy and performing optimally with a work environment as compelling and attractive as possible. Flexible work schedules, part-time positions and job-sharing are options. Another possibility is to fight hard to keep the experienced boomers on the job by offering sweetened retirement benefits for longer service. Also, employers can create mentor programs so the boomers’ institutional knowledge is passed on to younger colleagues. Simultaneously, CIOs should generate methods to develop talent to ensure their future success. Identifying future employees early is an option, such as establishing a robust internship program to give students valuable work experience. Not only does it help companies identify future employees, but it also is an opportunity to build loyalty. By starting relationships with young talent early, CIOs can create a continuous supply of qualified candidates.
CIOs must start now to plan for and combat the looming skilled IT shortage. Waiting until the problem becomes more pronounced in a couple of years will be too late.
James Thompson is the CEO and president of the InSource Group, a technology staffing and placement company based in Dallas. He can be reached at JT@insourcegroup.com.