What Talent Shortage?

Search the term “tech talent shortage” and you will find an endless collection of opinion pieces published by every media covering the IT – no matter the state of the economy and the job market activity level. Not only technology…

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Vlad Solodovnyk
10 Jun, 2015

What Talent Shortage?

Search the term “tech talent shortage” and you will find an endless collection of opinion pieces published by every media covering the IT – no matter the state of the economy and the job market activity level.

Not only technology media like Wired, Information Week, Tech Crunch beat the war drums on the topic, but so does the broader news community such as the Fortune magazine.

The Manpower Group, a global staffing agency, opines that companies all across the world are struggling to fill positions in several in-demand skill sets. Their list of highly sought talent extends to sales reps, technicians and drivers, and the lack of desired staff employee profiles is quickly billed as a “shortage”.

Hardest jobs to fill. An infographic by the Manpower Group

What Shortage Is (and Isn’t)

Look up #TalentShortage on Twitter to get an idea of how mainstream the idea of a shortage has become. But the term “shortage” itself – as it is used in the mainstream – is a misnomer. Many think that “employers struggling to fill open jobs” is the same as a “shortage”, but the definition of the term “shortage” begs to differ.

A job shortage is defined as “an economic condition in which there are insufficient qualified candidates to fill the market demand for employment at any price”. It’s difficult to imagine an employer with an unlimited payroll budget struggling to fill jobs, but using the term “shortage” in a situation when employers can’t fill a job for a wage the employer offers is, by definition, not a shortage.

Therefore, a better term for difficulties in filling jobs is not “shortage”, but “scarcity”: meaning that the sought employees are available on the job market, but are extremely difficult for companies to attract and retain.

The Talent Challenge Within the Tech Industry

There are many factors at play on both the labor supply side (skill-based and not) and the demand (competition, labor practices, company reputation, brand awareness), but the talent problem is more acute still in software development due to the rapidly changing nature of the in-demand skill set.

Workforce Strategy by Manpower

IT businesses are constantly in flux as to their approaches to technology and problem solving. IT toolsets cycles shift every few years, so it’s not uncommon that yesterday’s hot skills are partly or completely useless now. From a career perspective, this means that employees must become lifelong learners, motivated to seek out and internalize new developments.

These are hard lessons for networking and security pros, who used to be able to plan their career, but whose prospects aren’t clear anymore due to the advent of Cloud technologies and virtualization. More skill areas may follow their route.

Addressing the IT Talent Challenge

Because technology niches may start hot and turn cool, the need for both IT pros and hiring managers to adapt to the fact that tech skills are changing faster than ever before is clear. Faced with this specialized talent scarcity, how do businesses find a way to thrive – despite this shortage?

Researchers at Manpower in their 2015 Talent Survey suggest revisiting the following areas for opportunities that help close the talent gap:

1. Update People Practices

Sometimes the human resource departments are stuck with the hunt for the “purple squirrel”: a candidate with such a rare mix of skills and experience they are essentially impossible to find and attract. This may be the case of the case of the HR department to reduce the number of applications they have to process, but in truth, there is a trend of more specialized skill sets being required for the latest technology adoption.

Companies with niche technology needs like the online retailer Gilt and subscription media company Netflix often broaden their candidate pool by promoting the cool projects and technologies they are working on, some offering the local tech community free day-long courses on hot skills such as Scala and Hadoop, taught by experts, and book tech gurus to come in and speak, with time for networking with company staff. Raising awareness is a long-term strategy, but it does improve the chances of attracting the rare experts and improves the chances that they apply.

2. Broaden Talent Sources

Put on perfection goggles and you will never be satisfied with any candidate.

Non-college training is often required for many newer technologies, yet corporate America is still suspicious of training outfits like TechHire, who train workers with various backgrounds for the on-demand skills. When hiring outsiders without a college education isn’t an option, providing existing employees who are smart and eager to learn.

3. Revisit Work Models

IT leaders must often staff projects quickly, often requiring specialized skills that most job hunters – especially generalists or those looking to change tech tracks – don’t have. The talent categories that are in high demand as a result of shifting focus on mobile development, as well as specific niches, such as cloud security, DevOps, data analysis and architecture.

When IT and HR departments don’t clearly communicate the status of the project and the specific project challenges, the combination of skills, fit with the company and the duration of the engagement may not be a match at all. Engaging a contractor like the outsourcing and outstaffing provider like Outsoft (disclaimer: the author is an employee of the company) can fix the short-term and longer-term talent. Of course, the contracting approach doesn’t work too well with the “wait, wait, hurry” approach to talent, but no rushed approach to talent sourcing is ever a good idea.

Talent “Shortage” Isn’t Destiny

When companies have job openings they cannot fill, it costs them not only money from missed opportunities and contracts, but also a loss of morale among the existing employees who feel overworked and ignored. Yet talent “shortage” is best thought of as an outcome of poor planning, not a property of the job market that can’t be overcome.

As we look forward, we need to keep in mind that technological change is set to continue to accelerate. There is every reason to believe access to the right talent will become the primary driver of growth, as talent sourcing challenges are likely to get even more extreme than they are now. The best strategy is to acknowledge the issue and take steps to address some of the future needs soon.

What are some of the ways of attracting the right tech talent – at the right time – that have worked in your organization? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

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About the Author

Vlad is a writer with over 10 years of experience in the IT industry. He thinks of technology as a tool and likes to write about the ways people choose to use different tools, often with unexpected consequences.

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