IT succession planning: Have you started yet?

About two-thirds of IT executives are taking steps to prepare workers for leadership roles, according to a recent survey by Robert Half Technology.

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 added, an IT worker could take an external course to develop those skills.

Of those companies doing something about succession planning, management training, mentoring programs and soft-skills training (such as interpersonal or communication skills) top the list of measures companies are taking to prepare staff for advancement.

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 of the 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,” he said.

As a recruitment firm, three of the five top skills being requested by customers are what would be considered soft or business-related skills, said Drummond. “That’s because our customers recognize the importance of having people who understand IT,” he said, “but also communicate that effectively to the rest of the organization.”

Another problem is that a lot of employers hire for a short-term skills gap. “That’s great but if you have a need for succession planning as we all do, it’s important we hire people with the skills we feel are necessary to give them a long-term role in the organization,” said Andrew Dillane, CIO of CNC Global. This includes involving them in the decision-making process and giving them some exposure to activities that are done on a daily basis, such as business planning, budgeting and working with other executives.

“People need to invest in themselves in areas that are going to be most valuable to the business and make them the most marketable,” he said.

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


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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