Has the Pendulum Swung Back in Favor of Recruits in the IT Talent Market?

By Bud Crumlish, Chief Executive Officer & President

Staffing

In the recent past, the technology employment market has generally leaned in favor of the employer. This employer-side market has been in place since about the time the dot-com and financial bubbles burst. The talent pool has been large, and qualified job seekers have had to compete for the positions available. However, as a large employer of technology professionals, I believe we are seeing a shift. As our economy has continued to recover, it appears the pendulum has swung back to favor job seekers in the technology realm.

Today, we’re seeing better economic growth, which in turn is resulting in lower unemployment rates. This is true in the U.S. as well as across the globe, especially in developed nations. While a healthy economy is unquestionably a positive development in many regards, it can present challenges for employers looking to recruit and retain quality IT professionals.

The most qualified IT pros are most likely already in good jobs that they are not looking to leave—and that their current employers are reluctant to have them leave. While baby boomers may not be retiring as quickly as previous generations, which has helped stem some of the open positions, they are, however, more reluctant to change jobs later in their careers, making it more difficult to hire top-level, experienced talent.

In cases where you do manage to capture a new recruit’s interest, many now have the luxury of being both selective and demanding. The current situation is increasingly similar to the employment market during the dot-com bubble at the turn of the millennium, when IT workers were being offered large salaries, great job titles, and a plethora of perks as employers struggled to fill open positions.

Today’s high demand for IT professionals also coincides with an already high—and increasing—demand for new and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the internet of things (IoT), to name a few. Increasing consumer technology dependence has also made cyber/data security one of the highest-demand and fastest-growing occupations.

If these market pressures and employment trends are not enough to keep technology leaders awake at night, there is also a conflicting issue. Unlike the dot-com bubble when money was plentiful and technology requests went unquestioned, today’s technology executive faces continued pressure to control organizational costs, create operational efficiencies, and maintain compliance with increasing regulations, particularly in heavily regulated industries such as healthcare, energy, and finance. The mantra isn’t just “do more with less”—it’s “do much more with much less.”

So how do cost-conscious organizations find, obtain, and retain the best talent to meet the demand in this hyper-competitive environment—without breaking the bank? What it will take is what IT has always been good at—innovation.

Rather than looking to old, tried and true solutions, I believe that we as executives and technology leaders need to start thinking differently. Here are a few ideas I have. I’d be interested to know what you think and what you are seeing out there.

Work with schools to promote and increase Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. Most businesses have traditionally been passive recipients of what colleges and graduate schools turn out, much like the way that professional sports teams treat colleges and universities like farm clubs. The supply has always been plentiful, whether they were using internal resources or working with a partner to fill specific gaps, so they never had to get involved.

Being that this is no longer the case, progressive organizations that want to ensure they have an ample supply of qualified graduates to fill their open positions need to take an active role in recruiting and directing students into STEM educational tracks, of which IT is a subset. This idea isn’t just applicable to college students. High schools can be fertile ground for long-term recruiting efforts, and today, IT professionals and companies are working with students to help foster an interest in technology and STEM-related careers. Not only does this approach support the goal of ensuring a sufficient STEM student population working toward obtaining the right skills, it also gives companies an edge when it comes to recruiting those students down the road upon graduation by establishing a relationship early.

There are IT employment opportunities that don’t require STEM education. Not all technology jobs require a STEM education. For example, level-one help desk analysts don’t need to know how to develop an AI algorithm or set up a blockchain, but do need to be intelligent, curious, and friendly people with a love of technology and customer service. There are many of these jobs inside and outside of the IT department. Some may be general, like help desk, while others are more specialized or application specific, such as the electronic health records (EHR) in healthcare. These are large, complex systems with a lot of moving parts. A clinician or even a former medical student who understands the environment in which the EHR is used, as well as its particular nuances, can deliver tremendous value in a support role.

IT knows no gender boundaries, yet women remain largely underrepresented. You don’t have to be an HR expert to know that women remain underrepresented in today’s IT workforce. Despite making up roughly half of the world’s population, and generally outpacing males in college graduation, females account for only 35% of STEM graduates. This in spite of the fact that those who do graduate with STEM degrees tend to earn 35% more than their non-STEM peers.

Clearly, we as an industry have a lot of work to do to make technology careers more attractive to females. We can start by working collectively to break stereotypes, such as IT is primarily a man’s field. In each of our individual organizations, we have the opportunity to provide real, visible examples of women technology leaders and their achievements to inspire the next generation.

These are just a few of my observations and ideas as I travel the U.S. and Western Europe and meet with employees, clients, potential recruits, and investors. While the current talent pool for experienced IT pros is small relative to past years, I believe that we have the opportunity to develop strategies today that will not only help ensure future employee pools in our organization, but also ensure continued technology expertise in the markets we serve for many years to come.

I’d love to hear your stories about how your organization is managing IT staffing amid the current high-demand/low-supply talent environment. Feel free to comment here or contact me directly.

Until next time,

Bud

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