The firm surveyed 270 Canadian CIOs about succession planning and moulding future leaders in an industry faced with low unemployment among tech workers and the impending retirement of baby boomers.

The unemployment rate is at a 30-year low and as a result there’s more turnover in IT, said Igor Abramovitch, division director of consulting services with Robert Half Technology. To retain staff, companies should offer management training, mentoring programs and other forms of skills development, he said. But if they do lose a senior IT professional, they want to make sure there’s continuity in leadership.

Succession planning could include internal courses on topics such as budgeting, conflict resolution, time management and project management. Or, a company could offer up some business knowledge about the company or allow an IT worker to sit in on management meetings. “A third of companies in our survey didn’t do much about succession planning,” said Abramovitch. “They swept it under the rug because they are busy with other things.” If this is the case, he said, an IT worker could take external courses to develop those skills. Of those companies doing something about succession planning, management training, mentoring programs and focusing on soft-skills such as communication top the list.

Succession planning is on everybody’s radar screen right now, said Christopher Drummond, vice-president of marketing with CNC Global Ltd., an IT staff recruitment firm. “Some companies we’re talking to are facing retirements in their own workforce of up to 30 or 40 per cent between (now and) 2010,” he said. “In some cases it’s even higher when you look at just senior-level people.”

There’s also been a decline in enrolment in post-secondary IT programs across the country, which will exacerbate the problem for employers in coming months and years. “It’s really created a sense of urgency for many forward-thinking employers who know they have to deal with this issue,” Drummond said.

Three of the five top skills being requested by customers are what would be considered soft- or business-related skills, he said.

But too often IT professionals are married to a technology or specific skill rather than a business outcome, and this can hamper their careers. Drummond recommends that IT professionals focus more on business results, which requires a solid understanding of business strategies.

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