IT workers aplenty – but true talent “lacking”

It’s something that has intrigued me for years. I can’t remember the last time I spoke with an IT executive who didn’t list recruiting and retaining workers as one of his top five biggest headaches. And yet we can’t write about those concerns without being inundated with letters from exasperated IT pros who are unemployed or underemployed, and who go ballistic at the notion of an IT labor shortage when it’s been six months since they’ve gotten so much as an interview.

So, where’s the disconnect?

I posed that question last week to a number of people to help me prepare for a panel discussion that I’ll be moderating at Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference next month. Kristen Lamoreaux, an IT recruiter and founder of SIM Women, an affiliate of the Society for Information Management, was blunt.

“One of the sad things is that there is this entitlement mentality,” she said, noting that the market has changed. “There are plenty of IT professionals out there. But the truly talented people that clients are seeking — that’s the pool that’s shrinking.”

DeAndre Hodo, global director of IT infrastructure and operations at Littelfuse, a circuit protection products manufacturer, was even more blunt.

“It’s not that there aren’t people out there in the IT field that are willing or able to work,” Hodo said. “It’s: Do they have the aptitude, the ability to learn and work at the capacity that you know you need in your organization? That’s the biggest problem: qualified talent vs. talent.”

Hodo said he’s found that qualified workers are a comparatively small subset of IT professionals, and that they have to be lured away from other companies. “They aren’t those folks who are sitting on the bench,” he said. “Because, quite frankly, that’s probably why [those other people are] sitting on the bench.”

According to Hodo, too many IT workers think they’re qualified just because they have certifications or credentials. Citing the example of a company’s network going down, he jokingly pointed out that there’s no such thing as a network reinstallation disk that workers can turn to.

“It’s a very dynamic and fluid situation, and … you’ve got to be able to think on your feet. Cisco can’t teach you that. Microsoft can’t teach you that,” Hodo said. Consequently, the IT profession isn’t necessarily a good fit for everyone who goes into it.”I know plenty of IT professionals who have completely left the field,” Hodo said, “and are now truck drivers, mail carriers, doing somewhat more manual-labor jobs or jobs where you don’t have to be thinking on your feet as much.”

Lamoreaux, meanwhile, said she’s seen a lot of people “bail” from the profession because of what she called “offshoring panic.”

“One guy is now selling awnings, and he loves it,” she said. “He’s having a great time and making a success of it.”

Is it a problem that so many people are leaving the IT field? Professor Ravi Aron of the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business doesn’t think so.

Last October, I moderated a discussion on the future of the IT profession in the U.S. at the fall meeting of the UCLA Anderson School of Management IS Associates. Aron, who was one of the participants, was outspoken on the acceptability of IT jobs leaving the U.S. and moving offshore. He argued that the market should decide the composition of the country’s IT community.

“Will it mean that some talented, bright folks will move from IT into [other fields] as they’re now doing? Yeah, of course,” Aron said. “So what? That is the strength of the U.S.: Constantly reallocate people and talent where it is most rewarded. We do not want to be North Korea.”

Whether or not you agree with Aron, the fact remains that the competition for IT jobs is a global one, that quality is king and that you’re entitled to nothing. The disconnect lies in the failure of too many IT workers to recognize that.

Don Tennant is editorial director of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Contact him at [email protected], and visit his blog.


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