If the IT industry is going to attract the talented people it needs in the future, it needs to change the way it recruits, according to analysts.
Right now, the industry is in a squeeze. There is a looming talent gap brought on by declining computer science enrollments and imminently retiring Baby Boomers in the coming years, and the people the field needs the most are the least interested in joining.
The answer, analysts say, is for IT to take positive steps to make it an attractive career option again to all of the talented people who end up detouring into fields that they believe will yield more satisfying and stable careers.
"Otherwise, the chasm between IT and the rest of the enterprise is going to grow even wider in the future," said Bruce Skaistis, founder of eGlobal CIO, an IT consulting firm.
Reach out to parents
The people who often hold the most sway over potential IT candidate's career choices have been shown to be the ones most likely to discourage it.
Gartner analyst Lily Mok told eWEEK that she'd seen a recent informal poll asking IT professionals if they'd recommend the career path to their children. The majority said "no."
She pointed to the layoffs after the dot-com bust. The memory of that time colored the opinion of many IT professionals who went through it, and it has them doubting whether they'd want their children to go into the field, Mok said.
Reposition the message
One of IT's biggest hurdles to overcome is its reputation as a workplace stuck in the industrial age metaphor of the assembly line, where people are cogs in the wheel performing repetitive tasks like screwing a door on a car or writing a line of code, Matt Simons, chief people officer at ThoughtWorks, a Chicago-based software consultancy, told eWEEK.
The answer is to get the message out that IT work is more than that.
"If you placed an ad in the appropriate media: 'Seeking intelligent and motivated individuals interested in a career enhancing business execution and transforming business models and markets,' they would apply," said Alex Cullen, an analyst with Forrester Research.
"The finance major would want to work in an organization whose mission was to change how their company used financial information to accelerate decision making and real-time analysis. If you told these people that the career ladder was open to Bachelor's degrees, started with training and development in the tools and techniques of this career, and paid $45k to start with rapid advancement, who at a college campus would be interested in that?"
Address education gaps
Many firms and analysts express displeasure with what many computer science programs at universities are teaching students, which is largely highly technical content.
"In reality, in the corporate world, IT is changing at such a rapid pace that it now requires a different generation of skilled workers, both technical and business-savvy. Without changing some of the basic structure of the academic programs, such as bringing in some business content into the traditional computer science, it will not be able to attract and deliver the right type of students/graduates the corporations need, thus the gap will only become bigger," Mok said.
She added that these changes need to be supported and endorsed by the corporate community by providing a variety of internship and mentoring opportunities.
Allot work-life balance
The fact is, analysts said, a field that requires constant overtime, weekend work and frequently requires workers to show up on holidays is going to have constant recruiting issues.
"Just like everyone else, the enterprise IT team has a life outside work. Balancing work requirements with personal and family requirements is increasingly important to ITers, so helping them maintain a better work/life balance is a critical step in making enterprise IT a better place to work," said Skaistis.
What this means is that CIOs and IT managers should give their teams comp time and time off whenever they have been working long hours. Analysts said that managers might also consider incentives that team members can share with their families and friends, such as tickets with special privileges at sporting events, shows, museums and amusement parks, showing that they understand the importance of a life outside work.
If a field wants to attract creative people, it will have to allow their creativity to flourish once they get in-house.
"After countless reviews and audits, enterprise IT has become very risk-averse and procedures-oriented. As a result, many IT activities have become very regimented-and very boring," Skaistis said.
He warned against putting unnecessary restrictions on IT staff and to encourage new approaches, whenever possible.
"If nothing else, give your people opportunities to rethink or re-evaluate existing processes or the technology being used. This type of creative thinking can produce positive benefits in terms of results and employee morale," Skaistis said.
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