by Jean Martin

3 labor market trends all IT leaders need to respond to

Jan 31, 2017
CareersIT LeadershipIT Skills

Organizations need to respond to and capitalize on shifts in the IT labor market to overcome recruiting challenges in 2017

Scanning business media headlines on any given day shows that talent management—recruiting, hiring, rewarding and retaining people—is one of the most critical priorities for employers. Companies can grow only if they secure and maintain a satisfied and productive workforce. Nowhere is this more apparent than in IT, where leaders spend a lot of time thinking about how to put people with the right skills and experience in the right role.

Drawing on a CEB database of more than 2 billion job postings worldwide, we sought to better understand the global IT labor market. Specifically we asked: What are the most difficult jobs to fill, and how do various countries compare to one another in terms of IT talent supply and demand? Three large-scale trends emerged:

1. Employers still face stiff competition for traditional IT skills like coding. 

In four out of the five markets analyzed—U.S., U.K., China and Germany—coding skills such as Java, JavaScript, SQL and Linux are the most difficult to find, suggesting that although more and more graduates with coding degrees are available, demand still outpaces supply.

According to CEB’s most recent Global Talent Monitor, both the U.K. and U.S. experienced a significant decrease in job-seeking activity (2 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively) in Q3 2016. With fewer people looking for jobs, employers must focus on retaining their most critical coding talent.

2. “Entrepreneur” IT project manager is the most difficult role to fill.

Employers are seeking project managers who possess a broad and “entrepreneurial” skill set. For many roles that were once seen as technical, companies are now looking for individuals who can manage an expanded set of responsibilities within the realms of stakeholder relations, risk management and team leadership.

Additionally, demand for entrepreneurial project managers is not limited to IT. Business leaders in finance, marketing and HR are also looking for project managers who have this skill profile, plus an ability to learn new things and to understand the organization’s larger priorities.

3. The market for developers and software engineers continues to be tight.

Across all markets we analyzed, software development and engineering roles are particularly difficult to fill. While demand for these roles has grown globally, the U.S. is the only market to see growth in candidate supply.

Job postings suggest a rise in demand for developers and software engineers who can do more than just develop software. This reflects leaders’ growing interest in IT staff who can develop holistic business solutions and waning interest in IT staff focused on narrowly defined (and easily outsourced) tasks.

+ Also on Network World: 7 hiring trends for 2017 +

All three of these trends track with the broader shifts that IT leaders consistently mention when discussing identifying, hiring and developing IT employees. In fact, CIOs  increasingly compete with their peers in other functions to hire employees who have skills that traditionally lived solely in IT. Leaders across the board are seeking versatile individuals who possess technology skills—from light to moderate user skills (e.g., using basic business applications, using advanced analytics skills) to hard technology and engineering skills (e.g., coding, user-experience and interface design, software design)—and the ability to work more broadly within a business and technical domain.

One of the upsides to this shift in the skills profile is the ability for IT groups to “insource” critical talent. According to our data, IT departments are expanding internal staff and spending less on outsourcing and contractors.

The most in-demand IT staff are those who possess “high-end”—and difficult to outsource—technical skills (e.g., architecture skills, software design skills) alongside soft skills such as influencing and relationship management. Given the impact this blend of hard and soft skils can have on business results, companies, in some cases, are choosing to hire for excellence in soft skills and to train those employees in the harder technology skills once they are in a role.

The year ahead for IT hiring

Organizations looking to respond to and capitalize on these shifts in the IT labor market need to address three recruiting challenges in 2017:

  1. Determine whether internal competition for skills is hindering hiring. To lessen the competition between IT and other functions, it’s important to develop an organization-wide strategic workforce plan that catalogs roles, skills and employees.
  2. Recruit for key competencies, rather than narrowly defined technical skills. Increase the pool of potential candidates by revising role and job descriptions and emphasizing key behaviors and responsibilities—such as willingness and ability to learn—and broader technical skills (for example, application development skills rather than security application development skills).
  3. Incorporate more lateral moves into the talent sourcing strategy. Encourage staff to pursue lateral moves and step into unexpected roles even where they may need to acquire new hard skills. These experiences help increase employability as employees develop new skills, capabilities, knowledge and personal attributes that move them closer to their career goals.

In the current IT labor market, winning companies will be those that take the time to challenge traditional assumptions about job requirements, eligible candidates and how IT careers happen and develop creative strategies to get the right mix of people in the right roles at the right time.