How To Recruit and Retain I.T. talent.

In this special fifth anniversary issue of Baseline, we look back over the past few years and examine how information technology has changed corporate America.

Of course, some of the changes have been nothing short of fantastic, such as the use of service-oriented architecture (SOA) in banking. Giants such as Bank of America and Wachovia are finding that SOA—a computing architecture that allows an enterprise to make its applications and computing resources, such as databases, available as “services” that can be called upon when necessary—can quickly raise the number and level of products and services their organizations can offer. Another example is the entertainment industry, where music, movies and more are now zapped quickly to distributors over digital supply chains.

But where would we be without the information technology workers whose vision and drive made those technologies come to life within their corporations?

It’s a question that chief information officers find themselves asking more often these days. Indeed, CIOs are staring at a future with an aging workforce, a shrinking number of computer science students and an intensifying competition for information technology talent.

In a survey of its members released last month, the Society of Information Management (SIM), a national organization of CIOs, found that attracting, developing and retaining information technology talent is now the No. 2 concern of CIOs—right after information technology and business alignment.

CIOs should be concerned.

The number of college students entering computer science has dropped 50% in the last five years, according to the Computer Research Association.

Meanwhile, the Baby Boomer generation is getting ready to retire.

Yet CIOs need more people.

Nearly 40% of the CIOs in the SIM poll said they were looking to increase their staffs, while another 33% said they were looking to maintain their current staffing levels—which means they’ll have to find people to fill the spots left by workers moving on to new jobs or retirement.

But there are steps CIOs can take. Obviously, the first thing a CIO should do is retain the current staff. Robert Half Technology, the information technology hiring company, released in March a poll it had taken of 1,400 CIOs on their retention practices. Among the most common: providing training or professional development, allowing flexible schedules, increasing base compensation, and offering bonuses and equity incentives.

There have also been a number of studies about the best way to attract entry-level information technology workers.

Among the recommendations I find most promising: getting companies involved with colleges and universities, which can range from having CIOs sit on college boards to an active internship program; emphasizing mentoring, training and career development to recruits; staying close to recruiters; and raising starting salaries (which now average about $50,000). The profession could probably do a better job promoting the salaries already being offered to many I.T. workers. Salaries for many information technology jobs—even some entry-level positions—are close to $100,000. And the paychecks rise into the higher six figures, and even into the millions, for top information technology executives.

Companies might want to start thinking about college scholarship programs. While information technology departments are going to have a tough time finding good recruits, many parents are also going to continue to have a hard time paying for their children’s college education—the expense of which is quickly moving beyond the budgets of middle-class families

Whatever path companies and their CIOs chose, the time to start is now. As the stories in this issue prove, bright and motivated technology workers can make all the difference in a competitive marketplace. And the companies that know how to recruit and retain the brightest and the best will have a clear advantage in the years ahead.

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