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12 tips to survive the IT talent crisis
The war for IT talent is still going strong as the unemployment rate in technology fields hovers near zero and CIOs are faced with an increasing number of skills gaps in the fast-moving digital age. A recent report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services offers 12 tips for winning the war based on interviews with CIOs and HR leaders.
1. Connect employees with the mission
When you’re competing for a very small IT talent pool, becoming known as a great place to work is a great way to stand out. Culture is everything. Employees today want to feel they're part of something greater than themselves.
In fact, Chris Huff, vice president of mobile and consumer application development at The Weather Channel, says that creating interesting work and helping team members feel connected to their jobs is an IT leader’s primary objective.
2. Invest in coaching, mentoring, and training
Not only are educational opportunities a perk to attract talent, investing in training can help CIOs solve skills gaps by developing IT talent from within. Curt Carver, CIO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, sets aside three percent of his budget for training, “no matter what.” Cynthia Stoddard, CIO of Adobe, says that training programs can help keep innovation a core focus and responsibility for every single team member.
3. Hire for the right skills
If you have a specific technical challenge to solve, it may seem like a no-brainer to hire talent with those specific technical skills. But, according to many CIOs, it may make more sense to hire based on emotional maturity and the ability to learn and change, rather than technical know-how alone.
Anil Cheriyan, CIO of SunTrust Banks, looks for seven characteristics in all new hires, and not one of them is technology focused. Instead, being business focused, a change agent, and an end-to-end thinker top the list of critical skills. Jason Wudi, CTO of JAMF Software, also prioritizes what he calls soft skills – “the kind that helps you interact with colleagues whether they're in IT or not.” These include problem-solving, empathy, and a willingness to do what needs to be done.
4. Offer attractive opportunities
We've talked about making work meaningful and connecting employees with a mission. But for many IT professionals, the chance to work with the latest cutting edge technology, or to create an application that will make a real difference in people's lives, is a huge draw. Keith Collins, CIO of SAS, keeps an eye toward technology trends, such as sensors, and trains his staff on the “art of the possible” to understand better and get ahead of issues – even before the outcomes of new technology are known.
5. Rethink the org chart
The pace of technology change today directly challenges the 10-year org chart that was common in the IT organization of the recent past. Curt Carver, CIO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, redesigns his every 12 to 18 months and keeps it flexible. He says, “To plan for an IT future, you’ve got to be agile and hungry, and that agility has to be demonstrated by strategic plans that are being updated and changed.”
6. Redesign work around projects rather than roles
CIOs in the midst of the IT talent war realize that not everything needs to be done by a full-time employee. These leaders are tapping into non-traditional sourcing methods, such as crowdsourcing and talent platforms, to solve their skills gaps. Vish Baliga, CTO of SAP Fieldglass, says this situation can mutually benefit both employers and employees. He says, “Millennials are contributing to the gig economy because they are interested in doing what they want when they want, and not being tied down for too long.”
7. Be more social
IT leaders are tapping into their social networks to find and recruit talent. Jay Ferro, chief information and product officer for Earthlink, used speaking events as a way to get people excited about the work he was doing when he was the CIO at The American Cancer Society. In particular, Ferro tried to accept invitations to speak in hot talent markets — including Denver, Austin, Oklahoma City, New York, Seattle, and California.
8. Be more open
Another network CIOs are tapping into – the open source community. Award-winning technology leader Sanjib Sahoo says a focus on open source has had a significant impact on both recruiting and retention efforts because of the hands-on innovation aspect of working with open technologies.
The Weather Company CIO Bryson Koehler says in the report, “Open source is a magnet for talent. It’s a great way to attract engineers who are creative problem solvers and can give your company an edge.”
9. Tap into schools for fresh talent
Creating affiliations with colleges and universities, such as internships, is a logical move for finding the next generation of IT talent. But as the report points out, some companies are investing in K-12 programs to recruit talent right out of high school. Monsanto is one of those companies, and they have spent $7 million to enhance math and science education in rural school districts. It also has a partnership with the Girl Scouts around STEM and provides high school students with intern-like experiences.
10. Rethink diversity
If your idea of diversity is simply fulfilling your corporate social responsibility requirements, you could be missing out on a variety of untapped talent pools. The advanced state of collaboration tools today means that teams can be spread out across the globe. We recently heard of a Silicon-Valley startup that went 6,500 miles away, to Romania, to recruit their IT team. The HBR report specifies retaining women returning to the workforce and hiring individuals with autism as additional examples of diverse talent.
11. Collaborate with the CHRO
According to the HBR report, “CIOs and management experts agree that the traditional approach to human resources of filling relatively static slots on an org chart is not working well in the current dynamic environment.” One of the key underlying takeaways of the report is that IT leaders must build a strong collaborative relationship with their colleagues in HR if they want to win the talent war.
12. Keep your promises
If you are luring in talent with your culture, encouraging employees to see the big picture mission, and promising opportunities to do interesting work, it should go without saying that you need to follow through once talent comes on board. As Vanguard CIO John Marcante points out, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. And we know that IT managers play a major role in overall team success and individual employee satisfaction.” Deliver on your promises – and be consistent – to retain your best IT talent.
Download the Harvard Business Review Analytics Services report, “IT Talent Crisis: Proven Advice from CIOs and HR Leaders,” to learn more.