by Michael Rosenbaum

How to fix the tech talent shortage

Aug 12, 2015
Agile DevelopmentCareersIT Leadership

Non-traditional methods must be employed to identify and recruit truly exceptional engineers

Talent Acquisition Methods
Credit: Thinkstock

Previously, I wrote about the challenge in identifying great engineers and the White House’s Tech Hire initiative. The need for enterprises to find and identify exceptional engineering talent seems to be increasing, and experts are continually weighing in on how to resolve this issue.

According to a recent Gartner report called “Service Providers are Waging War Against U.S. Talent Shortage With Unconventional Methods,” this is biggest problem facing the U.S. technology economy:

By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But projections show universities are not likely to produce enough qualified graduates to fill even about 30% of these jobs.

Even today, there is a frightening shortage of IT skills in the United States. The White House puts available IT job openings in this country alone at over half a million.

Compounding the effects of this shortage are several enterprise factors, including a rapidly increasing demand for technologists who can design, develop, and deliver solutions rapidly and iteratively, along with recognition that agile development work can only be accomplished successfully with onsite or close proximity resources.

The pace of change of technology further complicates the situation and creates a constant and evolving demand for new technology expertise. The convergence of the skills shortage and increased demand is crippling to an economy that relies on technology and IT advancements. Some examples of this include:

Businesses compete in a digital world. The impact of technology on business success — competitive advantage, customer loyalty, revenue and productivity — is well recognized. Failure to digitally transform can spell the end of a business.

As highlighted by Gartner, finding the resources and skill sets that can drive transformation, however, is a significant challenge. In the same report mentioned above, analysts Helen Huntley and Allie Young summarize the state of IT in the business world:

Businesses must have IT to survive, especially in a digitally enabled world. It is no surprise that the demand for IT talent is higher than ever.

And, they summarize the impact of the IT talent shortage:

An apparent lack of IT talent is impeding the success of service providers that are currently expanding or wish to expand their onshore talent, or are new entrants to the domestic, onshore market. As a result of the IT shortage, service providers who are not using creative methods to attract and retain IT resources will be viewed as less competitive and their market growth will be inhibited.

The three solutions outlined in the report to alleviate the talent shortage are affiliations with colleges/universities, investments in diversity programs, or nontraditional resourcing methods.

In my view, while the first two are laudable efforts that should be explored, simple math dictates that they can’t produce the sheer number of highly skilled engineers needed to fill the shortage.

Gartner’s own numbers show a 30 percent shortfall if we rely on colleges alone. And while diversity should be championed at every step in the development of engineers, typical diversity programs are not designed to accomplish their primary goal at scale, namely to disrupt conventional models of sourcing candidates that result in painfully homogenous workforces.

It’s only in the nontraditional resourcing methods where we can achieve the scale needed to meet demand. The number of CS majors from Stanford, MIT, and Georgia Tech isn’t going to magically increase, so we need to expand the potential pool, identify those who are exceptional but undervalued by our conventional models of evaluating talent, and disrupt the informational asymmetries and other inefficiencies in our labor market that lead to people other than those who would be most exceptional filling each role.

These undervalued exceptional talents could be in related industries (hard sciences, research, applied math, etc.) that have a similar technological mindset. Or, they can be in other business units within your enterprise and have product knowledge and overall aptitude and excellence to succeed as an engineer.

There is a shortage of IT skills in the U.S. Enterprises should be wary of this shortage. But the solution is out there. Non-traditional methods, as Gartner calls them, offer the greatest promise. We just need to invest in those creative, data-driven methods for expanding the potential engineering talent pool and identifying those exceptional engineers who we are otherwise undervaluing.