CXO

Offshoring, outsourcing and start-up salaries: The CIO's hiring headaches revealed

Tech chiefs on finding - and if needed making - staff with the right skills.

Even in an industry which is so apparently obsessed with feeds and speeds, getting the right staff with the right skills is still the key to success - and a tracking them down remains a big problem for IT.

Because the market for tech jobs is so varied it's hard to generalise, but finding workers with the necessary abilities is a perennial problem, which might even be getting worse.

For example, in the UK tech salaries appear to be on the rise - and in the medium term the combination of an ageing workforce and a decline in the number of computer science graduates may mean that supply of staff continues to be constrained. Workers with in-demand skills around cloud, data science and web development are also able to command higher salaries.

And when asked 'Are you able to find staff with the right types of IT skills needed for your organisation' the majority of the CIO Jury members who responded said that hiring staff with the right skills was continues to be tough - even if the reasons they cite vary by industry and geography.

For some, the skills needed by IT staff have changed, making it harder to find the right balance. "Tech today is really about understanding/managing the interaction between people and technology," said Jerry Justice, IT director at SS&G Financial Services. This means IT staff still need the aptitude for technology and people skills on top.

Similarly Chuck Elliott, CTO at Concord University said soft skills had to valued in addition to the hard ones: "Today's IT staff must be capable of abstract reasoning, systems thinking, collaboration, relationship building, and experimentation."

He added: "Skilled database administration and programming skills seem to be harder to find. As an older IT pro myself I would advise the more seasoned veterans to ensure they are keeping up with new and emerging technologies and that takes some serious effort."

While the search for well-rounded individuals is common across many industries, some tech chiefs blamed the shortage of skills on some very IT specific issues, such as the rise of outsourcing.

For some time it has been argued that the tech industry trend to outsource and offshore IT jobs has made it much harder for college leavers to find new jobs (this then makes turns into a downward job spiral as companies can't find local staff so have to outsource and offshore even more).

Derrick Wood, group CIO at Wood Group said the IT outsource model has not only limited and damaged career opportunities, it has also had a cultural impact on the positioning of IT with business leaders, "especially where IT reports in to CFO office and [is] perceived as an overhead cost which needs to be driven down to a commodity level."

Wood said this means fewer school leaver or graduates will be attracted by a career in company IT, leading to a skills shortages not only in the technical areas, but in the softer skills around business systems analysis and project management.

Gavin Megnauth, group CIO at Impellam made a similar point: that even as demand for IT staff increases, since the financial downturn many organisations have halted their graduate and IT apprenticeship schemes and looked to lower cost offshore models to find skills.

But all this may have done is store up problems for the future. "The disruption of new emerging technologies over the past two years has left us with a skills shortage locally and the cost creep of offshoring over the past few years does now present us with issues," he said.

Some tech chiefs point to the lure of tech start-ups: Brian Wells, associate CIO at Penn Medicine said "Finding software developers willing to work in the non-startup healthcare industry is a definite challenge."

Similarly, John Gracyalny, VP of IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union said "Everybody here, even the dogs and cats, speak code. But I am fighting against Valley and San Francisco salaries - I've heard the average salary at Google is in the $120K range, and HR is convinced that I can get a senior java programmer for $60-70K. Not bloody likely."

Others, like Florentin Albu, CIO at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations point to a particular set of skills that are in demand. He said some types of skills can be found relatively easily - for example operations and infrastructure, application and app development on mainstream platforms and project management.

But he added: "I see a shortage of skills in areas that can at this moment bring strategic value to the business. I would consider in very much demand at present big data specialists, GIS experts, versed information managers and high end information security professionals, to name but a few."

And when skills are hard to find, CIOs advocate a do-it-yourself approach - to train staff up. " We are truly in a time of "Do more with the same". The way we are addressing this is re-purposing (or retraining) existing folks to the new environment," said Rocky Goforth, director of IT operations and infrastructure at Thoratec.

Tim Stiles, CIO at the Bremerton Housing Authority said: "We now recruit aptitude and attitude then train, train, train. Usually the outcome is perfect cultural fit and long term loyalty."

Further reading

About Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

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