The waiting game? Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

For information technology departments already burdened with heavy workloads, two months may seem too long to wait to replace a worker. But that’s the reality, according to a new survey conducted by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals on a project and full-time basis.

Chief information officers (CIOs) say it takes an average of 56 days to fill a staff-level position and 87 days to bring a new manager on board. The national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a random sample of companies with 100 or more employees.

“One thing that companies can take away from the results of this survey is that the fight for talent in the IT world is very real and will not go away any time soon,” says Chris Ferguson, division director for the Columbus office of Robert Half Technology. “Another thing companies need to realize is that taking too long to make an IT hiring decision can mean the difference between having good talent on board and losing that hire.”

Smart Business spoke with Ferguson about what business owners can do to ensure that good IT talent does not slip away, and what to do to attract and retain good information technology workers.

Why is there an IT talent shortage at the moment?

There are not enough IT professionals for the increased work demand. The IT talent problem will become heightened in the next few years because baby boomers are poised to retire starting in 2012. That talent is not being replaced by younger workers because fewer high school graduates are entering computer science and engineering programs in college. Overall, the unemployment rate for college graduates is low in general, even more so for those graduating with a degree in computer science.

Couple the talent shortage with the increased demand for workers who understand and can implement ever-changing technology in the workplace and you have an intense demand for IT talent.

What are some of the top challenges in this environment?

Companies are stealing talent with the lure of better salaries and other perks.

We’re also seeing a trend where companies are losing good talent because of the hiring ‘waiting game.’ You need to realize that IT workers are getting multiple offers simultaneously. If you want to bring someone on board and you wait too long to make a decision, you will most certainly lose that talent. Sure, the hiring manager wants to make sure that the IT worker is the right fit and wants to do a thorough search process — but if that process is too long or complicated, you can bet that IT professional will have other job offers waiting in the wings.

Your survey indicated that it takes two months or longer to fill IT positions. What is the cost to business of this waiting game?

The primary cost is remaining competitive. The cost of being understaffed is great in terms of stressing an already overburdened IT staff; then there’s the issue of missed deadlines, productivity gaps and dissatisfied customers — which can lead to lost revenue and business.

An understaffed IT department can mean unhappy workers — and these workers are in a good position to find another job very quickly. It is a fact that the cost of retaining current employees is lower than finding a replacement.

What can businesses do to lessen the impact of this scenario?

They can fill these gaps with temporary or project workers.

Another option is to view recruitment as an ongoing process instead of looking for workers only when the need arises. Hiring managers need to continually keep a pipeline open of potential IT workers.

There are a few ways to do this: CIOs can find top talent through industry trade shows, conference networking events, user-group communities, job fairs, and through college recruitment, as well as through staffing/recruiting firms to fill short-term gaps.

Other good sources of IT talent are through the job boards at HDI (Help Desk Institute: www.thinkhdijobdesk.com) and ITIM (Information Technology Infrastructure Management Association: www.itimassociation.com).

What other advice do you have for CIOs trying to fill IT positions?

Stay networked, utilize referrals and set up an internal referral bonus to existing employees who bring in top talent.

CIOs also need to realize that this demand for IT talent is not going to go away. Information technology is continually expanding with new products always coming into the market and new challenges to face. To be competitive in this landscape, companies must be able to effectively retain top talent and always be on the lookout for new IT professionals.

CHRIS FERGUSON is the division director for Robert Half Technology (www.rht.com) based in Columbus. Reach him at (614) 221-9300 or Chris.ferguson@rht.com.