Recruiting, motivating and keeping top talent is of paramount importance to IT leaders. Yet only 11 percent of IT leaders with hiring authority report that they have a \u201crobust, strong talent pipeline,\u201d according to the CIO Executive Council\u2019s (CEC) 2016 IT Talent Assessment Survey.\nWhile 83 percent of IT leaders anticipate that they will recruit IT talent in the next six months \u2014 everyone from full-time, in-house IT talent to consultants \u2014 38 percent of these same IT leaders state that it is \u201cvery challenging\u201d to find excellent IT talent, and 49 percent say that it is \u201cchallenging.\u201d\nThe dynamism of the IT industry has led to an ever-expanding skills gap. In fact, one of the most pressing concerns for technology professionals at all levels is \u201ckeeping up with technology advancements,\u201d according to the Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2015.\n[ Related: State of the CIO: It's complicated ]\nAll of this is unfortunate, because talent \u2014 especially technology talent \u2014 is driving innovation and business transformation in the 21st century, even more so than the tools and capital investments that fueled change in the Industrial Revolution. \u201cJust as capital replaced manual trades during the process of industrialization,\u201d says Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, \u201ccapital is now giving way to human talent. Talentism is the new capitalism.\u201d\nThe CEC 2016 IT Talent Assessment Survey seeks to frame the universal questions of talent management, with a specific focus on technology departments worldwide. By providing global data from IT leaders with hiring authority, the research affirms the most far-reaching strategic techniques of getting, and keeping, great talent \u2014 while puncturing some long- and dearly-held suppositions along the way.\nIt\u2019s not a war for talent \u2014 it\u2019s hide-and-seek\n\u00a0Talent management has been characterized in militaristic terms for a long time. The so-called \u201cwar for talent\u201d has been an official part of the corporate lexicon since at least the late 1990s.\nThe first problem with this phrase, at least in an IT context, is that it\u2019s overly simplistic. The second problem is that it isn\u2019t accurate. The market for IT talent isn\u2019t an everlasting battlefield. It\u2019s more like a seemingly perpetual game of hide-and-seek. Candidates can\u2019t be contested until they are found, and IT leaders report that they are having major challenges in the hunt. As previously mentioned, the 2016 IT Talent Assessment Survey bears this out, registering a massive gap between IT hiring leaders\u2019 expressed recruitment goals and their frustrations with the IT hiring process (see Figure 1).\n \nFigure 1. IT leaders are on the hunt, but talent remains elusive. (Click for a larger image.)\n\nThis pain has generally become more acute in recent years. Three out of five (58 percent) IT leaders contend that it is \u201cmore challenging\u201d to attract excellent talent than it was three years ago. And 37 percent say it is just as challenging (see Figure 2).\n \nFigure 2. Three out of five IT leaders say hiring has become more challenging. (Click for a larger image.)\n\n\u00a0Business challenge is one thing; existential threat is another. When asked about how IT talent challenges pose a threat to the future success of the enterprise, a significant majority (61 percent) registered that they faced a moderate or extreme threat. In the views of IT leaders, the technology skills gap is real, pervasive and dire in its implications (see Figure 3).\n \nFigure 3.\u00a0 IT leaders identify talent challenges as a business threat. (Click for a larger image.)\n\n\u00a0\nSixty-nine percent of IT leaders report that a lack of qualified applicants in the talent pool is one of the biggest challenges they face when seeking to attract talent \u2014 the top response, by a two-digit margin (see Figure 4). Other top reasons included unattractive compensation (51 percent); a lack of a strong recruitment strategy (34 percent); and difficulties in dealing with Human Resource (HR) departments (27 percent).\n\u00a0\n \nFigure 4. Lack of qualified applicants, compensation are leading recruitment challenges. (Click for a larger image.)\n\nIT leaders still haven\u2019t found what they\u2019re looking for \nSo, what do IT leaders with hiring authority want? Overwhelmingly, they are looking for project management skills, with two-thirds (64 percent) viewing such skills as integral to enterprise success (see Figure 5). Application development (45 percent); networking (43 percent); and database skills, such as NoSQL, round out the top four (42 percent).\nEmerging areas of demand include DevOps (18 percent); Internet of Things (IoT) (16 percent); open source (14 percent); and social platforms (9 percent).\n \nFigure 5. Technical skills most in demand include project management, application development, and networking. (Click for a larger image.)\n\nComplementing pure technical skills, of course, are the soft skills that complete a candidate\u2019s profile, and help determine cultural fit and long-term success. Foremost among these is having a collaborative orientation (49 percent); followed by creative, innovative idea generation (47 percent); and leadership capability (37 percent) [see Figure 6].\n \nFigure 6. Collaborative orientation tops the list of desired soft skills. (Click for a larger image.)\n\nWhere\u2019s the talent?\nSo, how do IT leaders with hiring authority seek talent? Perhaps unsurprisingly, internal word of mouth is far and away the most successful tactic, with one-third of IT leaders (36 percent) confirming that employee referrals represent a \u201cvery successful\u201d tactic (see Figure 7). Success rates drop precipitously from there, with the next three highest responses being search firms\/recruiters (rated as \u201cvery successful\u201d by 20 percent of IT leaders); outsourced IT services (15 percent); and university\/college programs (11 percent), respectively. The data also provides some areas of potential opportunity: For example, 35 percent of IT leaders don\u2019t take advantage of leveraging networking events as a recruitment channel, even though 48 percent of IT leaders have had some measure of success with them.\n \nFigure 7. IT leaders consider employee referrals and search firms to be the most effective recruitment techniques. (Click for a larger image.)\n\nWhat do employers bring to the table?\nNaturally, IT managers with hiring authority should consider what their peers are offering to attract the best and brightest. Almost all employers (82 percent) offer training opportunities for employees, followed by flextime\/flexible work schedules (51 percent) and health and wellness programs (47 percent) [see Figure 8].\nSubsidized and\/or complimentary food and beverages \u2014 the \u201cfree food\u201d that has gotten Google and Facebook so much media attention \u2014 is the rarest perk, with only 15 percent of IT leaders reporting that they offer the benefit.\n \nFigure 8. Training opportunities and flextime are the most common benefits.\n(Click for a larger image.)\n\nThe millennial myth\nMillennials are broadly defined as those individuals between ages 18 and 34. Read almost any article about them in the workforce and you will find a series of generalizations about what they supposedly bring to the office: idealism, entitlement, and a single-minded reliance on social media, among other purported characteristics.\nIt would seem likely that these nuances would present a unique set of recruitment and communication challenges. Yet a slim majority of IT leaders (54 percent) report that millennials are no more challenging to hire than anyone else (see Figure 9). In fact, 14 percent say that these younger employees are easier to get on board. This dilutes the warmed-over idea that millennials are fundamentally different from previous generations: Ultimately, they want a good job just like anyone else.\n \nFigure 9.\u00a0 Most IT leaders report that millennials are as challenging to hire as other age groups. (Click for a larger image.)\n\n\u00a0The diversity imperative\nOn August 4, 2015, the White House hosted its first-ever \u201cDemo Day,\u201d to highlight the achievements of entrepreneurs from all walks of life. The emphasis, through a series of innovation discussions and company pitches, was intended to \u201cincrease the number of entrepreneurs who are traditionally underrepresented.\u201d\nIT leaders face a similar imperative to increase diversity. And, by their own lights, progress has been made \u2014 but, again, the game of talent \u201chide-and-seek\u201d comes to the fore.\nOverall, IT leaders present a generally positive view of the level of diversity in their respective IT organizations. In the 2016 IT Talent Assessment Survey, diversity was defined broadly as a \u201cwide range of characteristics and experiences shaped by background, race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc.\u201d Four out of five IT leaders (82 percent) registered that they have a \u201chighly\u201d or \u201cmoderately\u201d diverse IT workforce [see Figure 10.]\n \nFigure 10. Twenty-three percent of IT leaders report a highly diverse IT workforce.(Click for larger image)\n\nAt the same time, only one-quarter (22 percent) say it\u2019s \u201cnot challenging\u201d to \u201chire talent to increase diversity\u201d (see Figure 11).\n \nFigure 11.\u00a0 Hiring talent to increase diversity is a challenge for 78 percent of IT leaders. (Click for a larger image.)\n\nFuture focus \u2014 and ambivalence \nWhen it comes to turnover, future prospects, and general confidence in the talent pipeline, the results are decidedly mixed. Employee turnover\/attrition \u2014 both voluntary and involuntary \u2014 generally skews to the single-digit percentages, with 54 percent of IT leaders reporting a rate of 9 percent or lower [see Figure 12].\n\n \nFigure 12. The majority of estimated IT attrition\/turnover rates run at 9 percent or lower. (Click for a larger image.)\n\nA slim majority (52 percent) of IT leaders report that they are \u201cvery confident\u201d or \u201cconfident\u201d that their enterprise \u201ccan field the effective IT workforce of the future\u201d some five years out (see Figure 13-1). The same percentage (52 percent) rated the quality of their talent pipeline with either of the top two scores on a four-point scale (see Figure 13-2). In spite of this mildly happy result, only 11 percent of IT leaders reported a \u201crobust, strong\u201d talent pipeline.\n \nFigure 13. IT leaders are generally confident when it comes to short-term and long-term hiring goals. (Click for a larger image.)\n\n\u00a0\nStart seeking now\n\u00a0Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, says that \u201cto win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.\u201d Business acceleration, globalization, the gig economy, outsourcing and remote work have changed how and where we work \u2014 and, arguably, made interpersonal connections in the workplace more difficult. Ultimately, however, the sentiment remains a noble and necessary one.\nThis is especially true in IT, where, as we have seen, a solid majority view IT talent challenges as a threat to the entire enterprise. The \u201chide-and-seek\u201d of talent acquisition, and the rigors of retention, are universally taxing. But these efforts will be all the more difficult in the long run if IT leaders don\u2019t focus on the essentials right now:\n\n\nResearch, research, research. Research your internal organizational needs \u2014 then research how your IT organization is best set up to execute on those needs. When the gaps make themselves evident, research exactly who your IT shop is competing against, locally and internationally.\nIdentify ways to secure that talent \u2014 local universities, executive recruiters \u2014 and, specifically, identify why your IT shop would be enticing to prospective employees. Above all, constantly keep a pulse on why your current employees are incented to stay and grow, whether through one-on-one meetings or surveys. As Celestica CIO Arpad Hevizi asks, \u201cWhat are the areas where an hour\u2019s investment will get [the team] an exponential return?\u201d\n\n\nMake a sense of purpose your strategic differentiator. At Fordham University in New York City, CIO Dr. Frank Sirianni, Ph.D., has very effectively countered a hypercompetitive local technology market thanks to Fordham\u2019s emphasis on \u201cthe creation, preservation and transmission of knowledge and culture.\u201d Every IT organization must identify some thread \u2014 cultural, philosophical, or strategic \u2014 that entices hires and makes them feel that they are contributing to something worthwhile.\n\n\nIT employees want agency and the ability to advance \u2014 like everyone else. \u201cWe're bringing you into this organization and we're giving you the freedom to be excellent. Take that freedom and be excellent,\u201d says Veresh Sita, CIO at Alaska Airlines, who puts a note to this effect on desks across the IT department.\nThe 2016 IT Talent Assessment Survey reveals that 49 percent of IT leaders regard a \u201ccollaborative orientation\u201d as one of the three soft skills most in demand in their organizations. But more individualistic traits \u2014 leadership capability (47 percent); political smarts (11 percent); and risk-taking (6 percent) \u2014 were not valued as highly by IT leaders with hiring authority.\nIt is indisputable that a team-player attitude is absolutely critical in any workplace. But too narrow a focus on the team \u2014 as opposed to individual aspirations and ambitions \u2014 carries its own set of retention risks. \u201cYou cannot take a cookie-cutter approach towards managing people,\u201d Sita says. \u201cEveryone is not the same.\u201d\n\n\nReflect on IT\u2019s brand, and make it a strategic advantage. PayPal CIO Bradley Strock has a simple and proven formula for success in his IT department: Accomplish tasks on time, on budget, and without a lot of drama.\nStrock\u2019s framework is a facet of his IT department\u2019s internal brand \u2014 and internal brands, like personal reputations, don\u2019t manifest themselves overnight or by accident. They are instead the product of communication across the business, self-examination and, most importantly, execution. To understand IT\u2019s internal brand, IT leaders should consistently examine what corporate IT does (and does not do) and why; how IT is viewed by internal and external stakeholders; and how individual IT employees collaborate internally. The answers to these questions will help IT leaders understand the unique advantages that the IT department provides, empowering them to more effectively pursue, hire, and retain talent.\n\n\nIT talent acquisition, on paper, is simple \u2014 identify the needs, then find and hire the talent \u2014 but it\u2019s far from easy in practice. Progress is the product of research, assertive outreach, and confidence in IT\u2019s brand. It comes down to knowing what make IT employees tick, and working hard to find ways to connect the desires of those employees \u2014 for salary growth, networking opportunities, training and development, recognition, and advancement \u2014 with those of the larger organization in a concrete and logical way. Ultimately, the principles behind winning in the IT workplace are the same as in any other business environment. But, as the data clearly demonstrates, IT skills are in such high demand \u2014 and the stakes are so high \u2014 that IT leaders must begin today.