IT workforce development: A little workforce planning goes a long way

IT workforce development: A little workforce planning goes a long way

Editor’s note: This is Part II of a three-part series on the information technology worker shortage. Part I outlined the challenge facing businesses, and this segment will offer a look at what Wisconsin companies can do – and are doing – to address the IT worker shortage.
Milwaukee, Wis. – If the estimates are accurate, about 10 percent of all information technology positions will go unfilled this year, and then the IT labor shortage will kick into high gear. That’s the stark reality facing Wisconsin businesses, especially as Baby Boomers approach retirement.
Contrary to popular belief, information technology jobs are in plentiful supply and they pay well, so part of the challenge is delivering a counterintuitive message to people whose view of technology is shaped by post Y2K layoffs, fallout from the dotcom bust, and the off shoring of more technically oriented IT jobs.
Fortunately, the pace of awareness is gaining momentum among employers, and they are beginning to take some progressive steps. “I think there is a lot of activity in this area,” said Jim Rice, former president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of Wisconsin.
Value propositions
When it comes to retention, one place to start is by analyzing workforce demographics. Manpower, the Milwaukee-based employment services firm, uses value propositions for various age groups.

Rick Davidson

Rick Davidson, global chief information officer for Manpower, recommends dividing the workforce into three components: the young generation, ages 25 to 34; the mid-career generation, ages 35 to 54; and the mature generation, age 55 and older. Although they have common needs, there also are differences in their characteristics and what they need from employers.
The young generation, many of whom grew up as latch-key kids, generally is independent and technologically savvy, Davidson said. Members of this generation are not motivated by money alone, and they actively manage their careers. Their average tenure at a company is two to three years, so it’s more common for them to frequently change jobs.
Since the younger generation is focused on career acceleration, they will want to know how they can make an immediate contribution. Presented with the right challenge, they could be steered toward information technology careers. Since some of the “cooler” new-generation technology, aka Web 2.0, could have a profound influence on business, this might be an appealing area for young workers.
Those in the mid-career generation typically deal with work-life balance, and some are raising children and caring for aging parents. They might be working a lot of hours, feeling burned out, and longing for a career change. Their mid-career burnout might be an opportunity to re-ignite their passions and “retool” them into much-needed technologists, especially in good-paying positions where they can apply their analytical skills, creativity, and business knowledge.
Members of the mature generation, armed with a lifetime of know-how, might be looking to make a contribution past the normal retirement age. It is a generation that often is overlooked, and with so many of them close to retirement, they might want to “downshift” to a 20-hour-per-week role that could involve training their replacements.
“You have develop a unique value proposition for each of those groups that taps into what their needs are from the employers,” Davidson said, “and they are different.”
The not-so-tried but true
Several reader reactions to Part I of this series came from IT workers who are, or were, with organizations that haven’t made their workplaces attractive or challenging places to forge a technology career.

Laurie Benson

Laurie Benson, CEO of Inacom Information Systems, queried her firm’s outside directors to determine the top three actions they take to retain key employees. “The three things that we got from that discussion are that it comes down to making people feel appreciated in their work, giving them interesting work to do, and letting them participate actively in the business,” Benson said.
Mike Jackson, vice president of global business services and CIO for Rockwell Automation, is in a position to offer technologists work on a leading-edge project. Jackson said Rockwell’s global process transformation, and the new systems that accompany it, gives the company an opportunity to show technologists the future.
“You can show them a path, so it’s easy to attract the kind of person we’re looking for, which is someone that has a high interest in seeing the technology applied to business,” Jackson said. “We have a lot of those jobs, and we can paint multi-year pictures of how it gets better and better as we go forward.”
Benson said the best retention approach she’s seen is to invite a team to present the details of a successful IT project to the board of directors. This gives them recognition, a sense of being valued, and an opportunity to gain credibility with directors.
Directors also benefit from the exchange. “Most board members worry that they don’t know enough about your business to contribute,” Benson said, “and that’s an ongoing concern.”
Davidson said Manpower is creating flexible work environments so that employees don’t always have to be physically at work. With high-speed broadband, wireless connections, and collaboration tools, people can work from home and other places. “That’s going to become more and more of a trend,” he said, “and as the power shifts from employers to employees, particularly for high-end talent, I think more employees are going to demand that because they will be able to.”
Courting rituals
In attracting talent, the aforementioned approaches help, but outreach is still indispensable in attracting the young.
According to Robin Pickering, a recruiting manager for Manpower, employers could take lessons from Rockwell’s approach to engaging college undergraduates. Recruiting collegians is certainly nothing new, but Rockwell actively recruits on campus, particularly the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “Rockwell doesn’t send HR people to colleges,” Pickering said. “They send hiring managers. That gives them a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent.”
Some of the solutions – increased use of interns and mentors- are true but not necessarily tried to the extent they once were.
Benson said internships remain an effective, if somewhat underused way of stimulating interest in IT. Through her involvement with the school-to-work program in Dane County, Benson has encouraged customers to connect with high school juniors and seniors. It was disturbing for her to learn that there is a waiting list of students that want IT internships, but not enough businesses willing to take them on.
Benson, who sits on the state ITAWi board, said feedback the organization has received indicates a need for interns beyond Greater Madison. “Several companies from Milwaukee said we’re talking about all these theories, but what we really need is interns,” Benson said. “I think that’s a common area where we can drive this in a substantial way.”
Mentoring metrics
Addressing the IT worker shortage is becoming a key item on more executive agendas, and some get involved in a personal way -through mentoring. Tom Koulopoulos, founder and CEO of the Delphi Group and a keynote speaker at the recent Fusion 2007 CEO-CIO Symposium, believes the benefits extend beyond grooming the future workforce.
“I’m amazed at the degree to which that [mentoring] relationship has value,” Koulopoulos said. “It’s one of the more valuable things I’ve done in my life.”
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