IT Labor Shortage or Not, Gaps Remain

The debate over whether there are sizeable IT labor shortages in the United States is challenging and complex. There has been plenty of discussion on H-1B visas, a purported lack of computer science graduates and a cry from the human resources industry that many jobs in technology simply cannot get filled.

Nearly one in four CIOs polled by Robert Half International in a recent survey said finding skilled IT professionals is their greatest staffing challenge. It’s gone so far that major company heads like Bill Gates of Microsoft have urged the U.S. government to increase the number of H1-B visas to help fill gaps.

But to hiring managers looking for very specific qualifications, it really doesn’t matter whether there are copious amounts of technology drones in the workforce. It only matters whether their organizations can find just the right workers for the jobs at hand.

Many technology recruiters and industry association insiders believe that even though there may be enough sheer numbers of IT workers out there applying for jobs, there are still definite gaps in select skill sets that employers require to keep their IT departments running smoothly.

“It seems from the conversations we have with organizations and with both members with CompTIA and from companies that are not members but hire IT people is that there are shortages of certain skills and companies are having difficult times finding people with the right skill set,” says Steven Ostrowski, director of corporate communications for the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), which frequently conducts employment surveys.Unsurprisingly, some decidedly nontechnical skills are tops on most people’s list of difficult-to-find qualifications among IT workers.

“There’s a dearth of real talent in the IT management world, and the reason for that is that the best IT pros tend to stay out of management,” says Dan Martineau, principal at Martineau Recruiting Technology.

Ostrowski agrees, explaining that soft skills, like management, communication and understanding of business processes, are among the most lacking in the IT talent pool that CompTIA sees.

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“What we’re finding and what we’re hearing is that companies no longer want people just with strong technical skills,” he says. “They need to have a combination of technical, and business knowledge in that understanding how it fits into the business interests or the business operations of the organization they work for.”

Ostrowski explains that in today’s tight economic times, many businesses are looking to squeeze as much value as they can out of their existing IT infrastructure.

“So they need people who can tell them how to take what they have today and make it work to its optimum capacity so that they can either become more productive as a business or reduce costs as a business,” he says. “And if an employee doesn’t understand how technology fits into the whole business scheme of things, then they’re not much use to their employer as an IT worker.”

Martineau concurs: “I think talented IT pros with strong business knowledge, understanding and exposure to the business will always be in high demand. Because you have to partner with the business, you have to understand the business perspective to really successfully deploy technology these days.”

The problem is, Martineau explains, that many IT workers have not adjusted their career strategy to fit the needs of their employers.

“Starting in the early 1990s, how many articles were written to people that said ‘God forbid you lose your technical skills, [and] if you lose your technical skills, you’re toast’?” Martineau says. “Now, for the first time, with the advent of offshoring and outsourcing, it’s gone the other way, where it’s like, ‘God forbid you lose your management skills,’ because if you’re just a coder, you’re toast.”