CXO

The myth of the tech talent shortage: Why it's a much smaller problem than vendors say

Despite reports of tech talent gaps, creative CIOs are finding or developing the talent they need, according to a new Forrester report.

Reports declaring the tech talent shortage are plentiful, many with numbers that seem to prove the issue. A lack of available tech talent is the no. 1 obstacle keeping CIOs globally from achieving their objectives, and an estimated 1 million computer programming jobs in the US expected to go unfilled by 2020.

But is this really the case? According to a new Forrester report, no. While competition for certain tech skills remains strong, the situation is more manageable than it appears.

"With technology becoming more and more important in business operations and the economy, there's the concern of if we have enough technology resources, and are we in the US falling behind in terms of having enough resources to keep up with demand," Andrew Bartels, Forrester analyst and co-author of the report, told TechRepublic.

However, much of the fear around the tech talent shortage has come from tech companies themselves, Bartels added.

"Vendors are very mindful of the need to have both high quality workers but also ones they can afford to keep their costs down," Bartels said. "They've been using their resources to build a case about why the public sector needs more investment to provide workers."

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Programmer (Tech Pro Research)

Here are three reasons why the tech talent gap is not as severe as expected.

1. Tech talent is available and affordable

US businesses have been creating tech jobs faster than the national average, with the number of workers in tech jobs projected to grow 3.4% annually and reach 4.5 million by 2018, the report found.

However, while tech job growth has outpaced national average, salaries in the field have only increased slightly, at an average annual rate of 2.2% from 2011 to 2018. This is just above the 1.9% rate for all US wages, the report found.

This slow wage growth suggests a balanced tech market, Bartels said. "You find very healthy growth in number of jobs, and while there's some growth in compensation, it's not the kind of rapid growth that would be a signal of a tech shortage that is being filled by companies pay more to attract talent," he added.

For example, fields such as anesthesiology and financial advising have seen rapid salary increase in recent years, signaling a lack of talent in those areas, Nate Meneer, Forrester researcher and co-author of the report, told TechRepublic.

Even high-demand tech roles have seen limited wage increases, the report found. Applications developers, security specialists, and other coveted positions have seen annual average job growth rates exceeding 7% over the last five years, while professions related to management and analysis of tech systems have grown at CAGRs about 3%. However, the wages for all of these roles have only growth around 3%, which suggests an efficient labor market, the report noted.

Further, over the past four years, the number of students graduating with degrees and diplomas in computer science has grown faster than the number of new tech jobs. "This suggests that any tech talent shortage is getting better — not worse — from a training and development standpoint," the report stated.

And self-taught talent is also flooding the tech labor market, as many tech workers in high-demand professions such as programming and app development are learning those skills through self-education. A recent StackOverflow survey of software developers found that 21% of professional developers acquired their jobs without any formal training in computer science or a related field. Another 32% considered their formal education to be "not very important" or "not at all important" to their career success, and 90% claimed to be at least partially self-taught.

SEE: Hiring kit: Python developer (Tech Pro Research)

2. Shortages are confined to specific industries, geographies, and skills

Tech skills gaps do exist, but only in certain industries and regions, and for certain high-demand positions, the report found.

CIOs tend to battle to find professionals with niche skills in areas such as security and data science. "There are some highly coveted subsets of skills that are challenging to recruit, such as software developers with experience developing mobile apps or front-end systems and data science and information security roles," the report stated.

CIOs also may face difficulties finding candidates with experience in their organization's field, Forrester noted. Wage growth has also been higher within these high-demand job categories, suggesting that subsets of workers in each area hold qualifications that make the competition to find and hire them much greater than average

Firms located outside of major tech hubs and urban centers also struggle to attract tech talent. Wages for high-demand tech jobs have grown considerably higher in states that lack major tech hubs—including Rhode Island, West Virginia, Montana, and Washington State—which indicates that CIOs in those areas must offer more generous compensation packages to entice tech talent to relocated, Forrester said.

Tech vendors and digital-first firms also experience greater demand for tech skills, and have had to increase their salaries faster than typical IT departments, Forrester found. To find needed talent but leave room to make profits, many vendors have tapped the H-1B work visa program, allowing them to bring lower-cost foreign workers for short term roles. The top five applications for H-1B visas in 2016 were all major tech services firms.

3. Creative CIOs will turn to new talent sources and operating models

Forrester offers the following recommendations for CIOs looking for tech talent:

  • Be prepared to compete for tech talent

When faced with difficulties finding tech talent, CIOs must be prepared to offer potential candidates generous compensation packages, desireable working arrangements, and personalized career trajectories, Forrester recommended. If your company is located outside of a major tech hub, consider making the position remote, or find a compelling argument as to why the candidate should relocate. It's also key for CIOs to be able to tell the story of how their firm is deploying technology to be an industry leader.

  • Tap into new talent sources

If CIOs are struggling to find qualified job candidates through job board postings, they can try tapping employees already at the company. For example, many people working in sales, marketing, finance, and operations are already familiar with their organization's technology, and understand how their business unit is or should be using it. CIOs can establish a process to bring these individuals into the IT department, and offer technical training. The gig economy is another place to seek talent: A number of people, including retirees and new parents, may have left the full time workforce, but may be interested in part time or freelance work.

  • Design your model for the talent that is realistically available

CIOs may need to adjust expectations about the talent available to their individual firms, Forrester said. Even if candidates possessing the exact combination of skills needed for a role exist, it may be difficult to reliably recruit them, making alternative methods necessary.

You can explore options for outsourcing the role, as well as opportunities to upskill a current or new employee with outside support. You can also look to an automation or artificial intelligence (AI) solution to augment human workers with technology.

The main takeaway for tech leaders? "Don't panic," Bartels said. "At the same time, recognize it's not something to be complacent about. The key point is to start to think in nontraditional ways."

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Image: iStockphoto/Rawpixel

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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