The Only Shortage in IT Hiring Is Common Sense

 
 
By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2005-05-30
 
 
 

Theres a terrible shortage in the world today. There just isnt enough of this valuable resource to go around, and it looks like this shortage will continue in the future. In fact, if something isnt done soon to address this shortage, the effects on the economy could be disastrous.

No, Im not talking about gasoline. Im talking about the loss of IT workers and developers that many major software companies are claiming is just around the bend. I guess theres just no one out there who can build corporate applications and maintain corporate systems.

In recent weeks, Microsoft has come out in favor of removing U.S. visa restrictions because the company thinks there isnt an available labor pool. IBM recently announced a program in partnership with many universities that would help increase the number of computer science majors to get more IT workers and developers into the economy.

The fact that theres a shortage of IT workers and developers may come as a surprise to the tens of thousands of tech workers who have been laid off in recent years and now find themselves unemployed or underemployed.

But Microsoft and IBM focusing on visa restrictions and college majors points out the real shortage that they and other companies see: Its not that there arent enough IT workers and developers out there; its that there arent enough IT workers and developers out there who will work for low wages and who will forsake family and regular life to log 80-hour weeks.

Many employers feel that experienced workers—while they may be desperate for a job—know what their skills are worth in terms of compensation and have families and responsibilities that wont let them put in killer workweeks.

Potential employers have to realize that there is a definite chicken-and-egg phenomenon going on here. There is no college program that IBM or any company can put in place that is going to make computer science and IT more attractive to college kids, who are no dummies. Theyve seen friends and family laid off or outsourced from their IT jobs. Students look at the market and see companies desperately trying to cut down the number of IT workers they employ, not increase it. Until this dynamic changes, most talented kids will avoid a career in IT.

Is outsourcing killing the IT field? Click here to read Stan Gibsons column.

If companies want to improve both the current and future IT labor pool, they are going to have to buckle down and do something theyve been avoiding—start hiring all the talented and experienced workers who have been let go.

And whats not to like about an experienced IT worker or developer? Sure, you cant get away with paying them peanuts or abusing them in terms of hours and benefits, but older workers tend to be more loyal and less likely to jump to a competitor or to another field entirely.

Most important, experience matters. In a recent statement, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates claimed that one of the hiring problems today is a lack of computer security skills in potential employees. But guess what? Most universities still dont teach security, so most people who know how to do security—and do it well—learned on the job.

Please dont give me that completely idiotic excuse that you cant teach an old dog new development tricks. In my experience, knowledge of multiple development languages is a plus, not a negative, when learning a new language. Techniques used in one language can often be carried over to another one—tips and tricks that a novice developer would be oblivious to.

So, to companies that need IT workers and fear a shortage of future workers out of colleges, a simple solution to both problems is to hire the experienced workers already out there. You wont be sorry to have people who know what they are doing working for your company. And once the kids see that the IT field is a vibrant one that rewards skill and experience—and not one where fear of replacement constantly hangs in the air—they will go into the field.

Maybe then well have real shortages—ones we would all welcome: a shortage of unemployed people and of bogus excuses.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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