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How CIOs can solve their tech and IT talent shortage

Massive layoffs haven't reduced the demand for tech workers. CIOs can address their organization's IT talent shortage with expert advice on how to recruit, hire and retain talent.

IT workers remain in short supply, even as some tech giants announce layoffs and shed employees.

"Organizations are still focused on technology projects and digital transformation, and because of that, tech workers are in more and more demand today," said Jose Ramirez, senior principal analyst with Gartner.

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

Causes of the IT talent shortage

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

First, the unemployment rate for technology-focused occupations is ultralow.

Despite unemployment rates rising recently, the unemployment rate for tech occupations is 2.2%, according to trade association CompTIA's November analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report.

Technology companies are adding jobs, which adds to those constraints.

In October, tech companies added 20,700 job openings, and industry employment increased by 28% compared to the same time period in the previous year, according to the same CompTIA analysis. There's also rising demand. CompTIA calculated that tech industry employment increased by 193,900 jobs in 2022.

At the same time, IT workers tend to switch jobs. The following stats highlight that employment flux:

  • Only 29% of IT workers intend to stay with their current employers, according to research from Gartner.
  • On average, IT workers switch 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.
  • Fifty-two percent of technologists are likely to change employers in the next year -- up from 44% a year prior -- according to the "2022 Tech Sentiment Report" from tech employment site Dice.

Challenges to finding, keeping IT talent

CIOs can't afford any talent strategy missteps.

Here are some factors that can contribute to low retention:

  • compensation packages that aren't competitive;
  • a workplace culture that doesn't provide engaging work, upskilling opportunities or career growth opportunities;
  • not taking a long-term approach to recruitment and only recruiting when positions open up;
  • recruitment strategies that target only a narrow band of candidates; and
  • workplace environments that don't offer the flexibility of remote work and other options that cater to employees.

Gartner's research showed that CIOs' most challenging positions to fill are roles in information security, followed by IT architecture positions, developers and software engineer jobs, and cloud computing jobs, Ramirez said.

How to develop IT leadership and solve the tech talent gap

5 ways to solve 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 keep tech talent must be attentive to the kind of assignments they and their managers dole out.

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

People stick around at companies when they feel like they're challenged.
Eric JohnsonCIO, Momentive

"That gives more workers something that's helpful in building their careers, and it's something new and forward-looking and innovative," he said.

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

"People stick around at companies when they feel like they're challenged," Johnson said.

2. Boost employee experience efforts

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

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

  • 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 workers are not afraid to take their talents elsewhere if organizations don't make employee experience a priority.

Nearly 80% of surveyed technologists said they would not 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 various facets of employee experience are to addressing the IT talent shortage.

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

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

Organizations looking to compete more successfully for tech talent need to first build a great workplace culture and then highlight that, said Rick Harris, managing director and head of the product, data and technology practice at the 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 that showcase vibrant in-office environments or promoting the importance of what the organization brings to market or the value that IT provides to the company, Harris said.

3. Ensure internal mobility and growth

Every CIO should understand concepts such as upskilling, reskilling and internal mobility. They should also understand how to get the most from a learning management system and the myriad ways to create educational opportunities. Tech workers want to grow their skills and careers, making in-house growth opportunities essential to every IT talent strategy.

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

Growth opportunities also help CIOs recruit new talent and fill talent gaps. CIOs can implement various approaches to accomplish 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 IT talent growth, he said. IT workers, for example, can move from the help desk to the security operations center.

More formalized upskilling programs are also important.

Some organizations are implementing 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 pathways for tech worker advancement. Instead of offering IT employees only the traditional option for growth -- a single, upward-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 boot camps 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 talent retention rests on fundamentals such as training and growth, CIOs should tap into their leadership and soft skills. For example, ensuring people feel valued and heard is critical to providing a positive employee experience.

Scheduling "stay interviews" with key employees and those who may be looking to leave is one way of supporting retention efforts, said Sheryl Haislet, CIO of Vertiv, which provides equipment and services for data centers. During a stay interview, CIOs can learn why employees are considering quitting and how they might retain them.

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

CIOs may need to provide some employees with more challenging work, while others may need a more flexible schedule, she said. Understanding the deciding factors and working to customize the employee experience are vital.

Workers throughout the organization see such efforts, which helps them recognize the company is a place worth staying because it's willing to invest in staff, Haislet said.

"There's a ripple effect," she said.

5. Expand your network of potential candidates

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

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

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

"Having those connections helps you not only find people, but find people more quickly [when hiring]," Haislet said. "I've developed a number of relationships through online contacts through the years, and it allows me to cast a much wider net than what 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 alum 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 posted that its Road to Rehire program was on pause, 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 date.

That's the approach taken by the Amazon Returnship Program, which features a six-week, paid and benefit-eligible transition period. During this time, the returning employees receive work assignments to better onboard into 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 who create IT capabilities for work, Ramirez said.

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

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