Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tips For Recruiting And Retaining IT Talent

Worldwide competition for IT professionals is becoming a pervasive problem, making hiring and retaining qualified--let alone top--IT talent a major concern for most organizations.

The IT job market hasn't been this good since the late 1990s, but it's a demanding market, too. As technology and business environments continue to change rapidly, IT professionals are required to learn and apply new skills to compete in a global economy. Today's IT jobs require more than just strong technical abilities; they also demand industry and business knowledge, as well as effective communication and interpersonal skills. My most recent research conducted in association with the Society for Information Management, to be revealed Oct. 9 at SIMposium in Memphis, Tenn., shows that retaining IT pros has surpassed IT-business alignment as the No. 1 concern for IT executives.

The market for IT professionals is still the fastest-growing sector in the U.S. economy, with more than 1 million new jobs projected to be added between 2004 and 2014. Six of the 30 occupations projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow the fastest in this time period are IT related. IT job prospects are expected to be good as demand increases because of rapid advancement in technologies, new business opportunities for leveraging applications, and the number of baby boomers expected to retire.

But there may not be sufficient IT talent to meet this growing demand. The IT hiring downturn during the early part of this decade and the fear of offshore outsourcing have caused a drop in enrollment for computer science and information systems courses at many universities. In the past decade, the number of students majoring in computer science has dropped 40%. A report from UCLA's higher-education research institute shows an even steeper decline of 70% between 2000 and 2005 of freshmen who planned to major in computer science. The loss of IT skills and IT professionals will only accelerate the shift of IT jobs overseas. If nothing is done to turn this trend around to meet the anticipated strong demand for IT workers in the United States, organizations will be forced to source their IT resources overseas, reinforcing a self-fulfilling prophecy that everything is moving offshore.

Harris Interactive reports that, in the second quarter, organizations moderately increased IT head count and salaries to attract and retain skilled and talented IT professionals. In the current employee-driven market, it's difficult to retain talented IT professionals, who have historically displayed high turn-over rates.

The turnover of skilled IT people is expensive and disruptive to organizations. Whenever a talented professional leaves, costs are incurred for hiring and training, as well as the cost of losing the professional's knowledge about his or her company. Recruiting and hiring IT professionals isn't cheap. The cost of hiring skilled IT people varies depending on the type of job and the specific skills required, along with other intangibles. Gartner estimates that IT employee replacement costs are 2.5 times the annual salary of an IT professional leaving the organization. Recruiting includes the cost of advertising, recruiters, traveling, interviewing, and training, as well as the productivity lost as the new IT professional comes up to speed.

Retaining IT professionals has taken on a new sense of urgency. Important considerations such as how to retain skilled IT professionals in the improving IT job market, how to prepare for offshore outsourcing, and how to ensure that IT professionals have the required business, technical, and interpersonal skills to succeed in the era of globalization are all important.