How CIOs can address their technology and IT talent shortage

IT workers remain in short supply, although some tech giants are announcing layoffs and laying off employees.

“Organizations are still focused on technology projects and digital transformation, and because of that, technology workers are increasingly in demand today,” said Jose Ramirez, senior analyst at Gartner.

In response, CIOs must create multifaceted talent management strategies that address the human needs of employees and candidates and look to new ways to find talent. In other words, tech leaders must rethink their traditional approaches if they hope to solve their organization’s IT talent shortage.

Reasons for lack of IT talent

Recent employment research highlighted the war for tech talent and its complexity.

First, unemployment for technology-focused occupations is ultra-low.

Despite unemployment rising recently, the unemployment rate for tech occupations is 2.2%, according to the industry association CompTIA’s November Analysis of the jobs report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tech companies are adding jobs, increasing these constraints.

In October, technology companies added 20,700 job openings and industry employment rose 28% compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the same CompTIA analysis. There is also increasing demand. CompTIA calculated that employment in the technology industry will increase by 193,900 jobs by 2022.

At the same time, IT employees tend to change jobs. The following statistics highlight this employment stream:

  • Only 29% of IT workers intend to stay with their current employers, according to research from Gartner.
  • On average, IT workers change roles every 2.7 years — 20% more often than the 3.2 years cited by all professionals, according to research from management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
  • 52 percent of technologists are likely to change employers in the next year — up from 44% the year before — according to the “2022 Tech Sentiment Report” from tech employment site Dice.

Challenges in finding and retaining IT talent

CIOs cannot afford any talent strategy mistakes.

Here are some factors that can contribute to low retention:

  • compensation packages that are not competitive;
  • a workplace culture that does not provide engaging work, upskilling opportunities or career growth opportunities;
  • don’t take one long-term approach to recruitment and only recruiting when positions open up;
  • recruitment strategies that target only a narrow range of candidates; and
  • workplace environments that do not offer the flexibility of telecommuting and other employee-friendly options.

Gartner’s research found that the most challenging positions for CIOs to fill are information security roles, followed by IT architecture positions, developer and software engineering jobs and cloud computing jobs, Ramirez said.

ESG Talks: Career advice and talent development for IT

5 Ways to Address the Tech Talent Shortage

CIOs can overcome their organization’s IT talent shortage by taking a proactive, holistic and multifaceted approach to talent management and recruitment.

1. Offer challenging and engaging work

IT workers value challenging work, so CIOs looking to attract and retain technology talent need to be mindful of the kinds of tasks they and their managers are doing.

Eric Johnson, CIO of Momentive, the creator of SurveyMonkey, said he keeps this in mind as his IT department tackles new projects, such as introducing automation technologies. In such cases, he said, he aims to split tasks across multiple employees rather than asking a single employee to take on all or most of the new work.

People stick with companies when they feel challenged.

Eric JohnsonCIO, Momentive

“It gives more employees something that’s useful in building their careers, and it’s something new and forward-thinking and innovative,” he said.

It is also critical to find engaging opportunities for all IT employees and empower them to look for innovation opportunities.

“People stick with companies when they feel they’re being challenged,” Johnson said.

2. Boost employee experience efforts

IT professionals want to join and stay with organizations that focus on employee experience.

Culture is particularly important, and good workplace culture has several elements that set it apart from the competition. Here are some of these characteristics:

  • competitive compensation;
  • a supportive environment;
  • flexibility;
  • diverse and inclusive teams;
  • articulation of what success means;
  • clarity around worker performance and evaluation; and
  • public recognition and rewards.

IT professionals aren’t afraid to take their talents elsewhere if organizations don’t prioritize employee experience.

Nearly 80% of techies surveyed said they wouldn’t consider applying for a job at a company with a bad reputation — even if that job pays more than their current one, according to the Dice report.

Other research highlighted how important different facets of employee experience are to addressing the IT talent shortage.

Two-thirds of tech workers want to keep one mix of remote and office work, with nearly half saying they would consider leaving a company that stopped offering telecommuting options, according to a global survey by Bain & Co., a management consulting firm headquartered in Boston. Employees also value other forms of workplace flexibility, such as the ability to decide which projects to work on. Flexibility was actually the No. 2 reason workers would consider both leaving a job and joining a new employer. Inadequate rewards and recognition came in third as a reason why employees would look for a new job.

CIOs should also make sure to communicate employee experience efforts, starting with the culture.

Organizations that want to compete more successfully for tech talent must first build a great workplace culture and then highlight it, said Rick Harris, managing director and head of the product, data and technology practice at talent consulting firm Raines International, headquartered in New York.

“Sell that culture,” Harris said. “It’s about why people work there, what motivates them, what makes the company unique and interesting, and then representing that.”

That could mean posting videos showing live environments in the office or promoting the importance of what the organization brings to market or the value that IT brings to the business, Harris said.

3. Ensure internal mobility and growth

Every CIO should understand concepts such as upskilling, rehabilitation and internal mobility. They should also understand how to get the most out of one learning management system and the countless ways to create educational opportunities. Tech workers want to develop their skills and careers, which do internal growth opportunities essential to any IT talent strategy.

In fact, lack of learning and growth opportunities is the No. 1 reason employees would quit a job, according to the Bain study.

Growth opportunities also help CIOs recruit new talent and fill talent gaps. CIOs can implement different approaches to achieve these goals.

Momentive has had success using cross-training programs, where workers take short-term positions to upskill, Johnson said.

Supporting both lateral moves and promotions within the company helps support the growth of IT talent, he said. IT employees can, for example, move from the help desk to the security operations center.

More formalized upskilling programs are also important.

Some organizations implement formal career development programs that train new college graduates and less experienced IT workers to take on the roles the organization needs to fill, Ramirez said. Others are also creating more paths to advancement for technology workers. Instead of offering IT workers only the traditional opportunity for growth – a single, upwardly focused career ladder – they have options that also enable lateral or even diagonal mobility – in other words, a career lattice.

A company can also partner with bootcamps and training centers to train and cultivate a wider pool of talent, including people with experience outside of IT. In this way, they can take a longer-term and more creative approach to developing their most needed and future skills.

4. Understand retention differentiators

While retaining talent rests on fundamentals such as training and growth, CIOs should leverage theirs leadership and soft skills. For example, ensuring that people feel valued and heard is critical to providing a positive employee experience.

Scheduling “stay interviews” with key employees and those who may want to leave is one way to support retention efforts, said Sheryl Haislet, CIO of Vertiv, which provides data center equipment and services. During a retention interview, CIOs can learn why employees are considering leaving and how to retain them.

“You find that you can do things that can really help get people to stay,” Haislet said.

CIOs may need to give some employees more challenging work, while others may need a more flexible schedule, she said. Understanding the determinants and working to customize the employee experience is critical.

Employees throughout the organization see such an effort, which helps them recognize that the company is a place worth living because it is willing to invest in people, Haislet said.

“There is a ripple effect,” she said.

5. Expand your network of potential candidates

IT leaders may not think beyond conventional networking opportunities, such as working with colleges, trade schools, and career fairs and asks employees to promote job openings within their professional network. But in today’s competitive hiring market, CIOs should turn to their networks and less traditional approaches to expanding the talent pool.

Staying in touch with former employees and expanding the network of former colleagues can expand the professional contact network, Haislet said.

She also posts a motivational quote daily on LinkedIn, a practice that attracts attention, comments and connections.

“Having these connections helps you not only find people, but find people faster [when hiring]”, Haislet said. “I’ve developed a number of relationships through online contacts over the years, and it allows me to cast a much wider net than I could using traditional methods.”

For example, some companies have offboarding programs that go beyond exit interviews to include information about how departing employees can return in the future, Ramirez said.

Similarly, some companies also have alumni associations from which they can recruit.

Microsoft is a notable example with its Microsoft Alumni Network and a Road to Rehire program. As of November 2022, Microsoft announced that its Road to Rehire program was on hiatus, but the company noted that more than 10% of its hires in 2019 were “boomerangs”.

Ramirez explained that such programs often do — and should — incorporate an on-ramp with a training component to bring returning workers up to speed.

That’s the approach of the Amazon Returnship Program, which has a six-week, paid and benefit-entitled transition period. During this time, the returning employees receive work assignments to better onboard the Amazon culture, according to the program’s website.

Gartner advised that CIOs capture the talent of business technologists, the employees who report outside of IT but create IT capabilities for work, Ramirez said.

“They could be in sales or marketing or finance, but they have technology skills that CIOs can tap into [that] can fill gaps,” Ramirez said.

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