A shortage of IT staff continues to plague businesses, according to a new report by the Cutter Consortium. One of the most serious limitations facing companies today continues to be a lack of IT staff.

“IT staffing, in one form or another, is a perennial issue, but IT staffing’s high ranking in these latest results shows that it is particularly pressing at this time,” said Chris Pickering, a senior consultant at Cutter Consortium. “This is a red flag to focus on attracting and retaining the best staff possible, particularly if there are opportunities during this economic slowdown that will disappear as things pick up again.”

Cutter Consortium reports that company leaders say they face three major IT staffing issues:

  • Keeping pace with market salaries
  • Recruiting experienced professionals
  • Retaining existing staff

According to the Cutter report, only a quarter of the respondents said their companies pay higher salaries to ward off staffing shortfalls. Cutter lists the following methods as the top ones that IT managers use to attract and retain staff:

  • Offering flexible hours: 71%
  • Training on hot technologies: 51%
  • Creating leading-edge projects: 42%
  • Supporting telecommuting arrangements: 38%
  • Paying performance bonuses: 33%
  • Paying competitive salaries: 24%

Pickering said the fact that companies are having trouble keeping up with market salaries means that salaries are rising more rapidly than expected and that demand is still outstripping supply.

“The fact that companies are responding by focusing on nonsalary benefits either supports the long-standing claim that IT professionals are more concerned about working conditions and advancing their technical expertise than they are about money,” he said, “or, it means that companies have gone as far as they are willing to go and we will see a leveling off or decline in salary increases.”

Pickering suggested that managers take another look at their budgets to see if there is any extra money for salaries. “I think the opportunity here is to get your staff set up so that you’ll be prepared for the future,” he said. “Because as the economy picks up, things will be even tighter than they are right now.”

Nonmonetary recruiting methods
If offering higher salaries is not a viable solution, Pickering suggested reviewing overall benefit packages to make them more flexible. Pickering’s suggestions map closely to the Cutter survey’s three most popular solutions. They are:

  • Flexible hours and telecommuting.
  • Training on hot technologies.
  • Assignments to hot technologies.

“If companies are truly in a position where they can’t pay more money, they have to rely on some of these nonmonetary benefits,” he said.

Another option is offering extended sabbaticals. Pickering said that extended sabbaticals are almost nonexistent in the current market but may be an alternative way to attract or retain employees. “Every five to seven years, let people take a little extra time off and recharge the batteries,” he said.

Expand your approach to recruiting
IT executives contacted for this article recommended that managers take an open-minded and flexible approach to hiring. Linda Pittenger, president and chief executive officer of people3, suggests that IT managers tailor compensation packages to individuals.

“For the college hire, offer to pay car insurance for two years. For the midcareer hire, offer a savings bond, and for the seasoned professional, offer financial planning as perks,” Pittenger said.

Don Jones of Kenzer Corp, a national executive search firm, recommends that IT managers not shy away from candidates who are unemployed.

“With the tremendous amount of layoffs in the industry, there are some excellent candidates available,” he said. “Most candidates, employed or not, realize that budgets have been cut and they may have to look at a smaller compensation package.”

John Cass, business development manager at Portent Interactive, often has to hire IT staff in addition to his business development duties. Because finding the right candidate takes time, he starts the search process even before a job opens by cultivating ongoing relationships with colleges and other associations.

“When I do have an opening, I send out job descriptions to my contacts, about 15 to 20, and then within about a week I have a flood of resumes,” he said.

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Brian R. Hook is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis. He covers business and politics.