The bad habits behind the IT talent shortage

The talent shortage in the IT sector is self-imposed. The jobs are narrowly defined with a focus on technical skills instead of capturing the broader skills required for today’s IT practitioner.

I recently read a blog post by Nick Corcodilos “Ask The Headhunter: The Talent Shortage Myth and Why HR Should Get Out of the Hiring Business” and it seems Nick and I have come to a similar conclusion – the talent shortage is self-imposed.

My Field Research Summary “The Changing IT Career” is about to publish on Gartner.com. This document summarises our findings from a field research project focused on how goals, expectations, and trends are affecting IT careers. This field research incorporated both a Gartner Research Circle survey and in depth interviews with Gartner clients and non-clients in Q42012. It generated a wealth of data mostly from middle management and practitioners from 29 countries. It sheds light on these important questions:

  • What are the new realities for IT?
  • Why is it necessary to create a participative workforce and a new form of effectiveness?
  • How should the way we manage, hire and engage staff change?

One of the many findings is that IT practitioners realise we must reshape the IT workforce – A participative workforce must emerge but it cannot without attention to non-technical skills, new hiring and management practices, as well as renewed efforts to eliminate dysfunctional and undermining behaviours. Part of that finding is that broken job titles, descriptions, postings and hiring perpetuate dysfunction and prevent us from getting the staff with the broader skills and competencies we need.

Titles and job descriptions have real problems and it is detrimental to reshaping the IT workforce. Jobs are narrowly defined with a focus on technical skills and they seem to get narrower instead of capturing the broader skills required for today’s IT practitioner. As a result, our bad habits perpetuate dysfunction. This dysfunctional cycle is illustrated below:

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Is there a real shortage of talent, or are we looking for, asking for and developing the wrong things? It appears we brought on the shortage ourselves. If we valued competencies over skills (for example, understanding application development not just how to code in a particular language), valued non-technical skills over technical skills, and valued developing people over just finding a resource, then we would find a much larger pool of candidates for any job opening.

Want to cure your talent shortage? Cure the dysfunction.

Mike Rollings is VP of Gartner Research within the Professional Effectiveness team.