IT Worker Shortage Continues

The United States economy has certainly suffered a downturn, and the unemployment rate is at its highest in almost four years, yet a study by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) found the average number of open IT service and support positions in American companies has more than tripled since 1999.

The study, “Ongoing Crisis in IT Management”, found that staffing and training issues remain the biggest challenges faced by IT department managers. The study polled both CIOs and HR managers at companies with sales of $20 million or more, and was conducted in May and June of 2001.

The research found that the number of unfilled IT service and support positions is 2.1, out of an average IT department size of 25.6. This represents a three-fold increase in the percentage of open positions identified compared to 1999, when CompTIA identified 0.6 open positions in average departments of 20.2 people. Larger companies are even more likely to face problems with unfilled IT positions.

HR managers and CIOs, the study found, differ on their views of what shape the IT skills gap takes, as well as how to address it. HR managers are much less likely to believe that IT applicants lack training, but also differed from CIOs about which skills are important for IT positions. CIOs value “soft skills” such as communications and patience, while HR professionals tend to screen candidates for hard, technical skills.

Responses from CIOs and HR managers also differed greatly concerning questions about outsourcing IT functions. Almost two-third of CIOs (61 percent) say they outsource at least some part of their company’s IT services, while only 37 percent of HR professionals say their companies outsource IT functions. CIOs are almost twice as likely in 2001 to cite the need for outsourcing as a result of IT staff shortages as they were in 1999 (66 percent vs. 37 percent).

Compared to two years ago, IT certification plays an increasingly important role with CIOs, with a growing percentage (51 percent vs. 41 percent in 1999) citing independent IT industry association certification as important. CIOs ranked vendor-neutral certifications more important than vendor-specific certifications. Executives cited network services (27 percent), service and support (17 percent), software development (10 percent) and Internet/e-business (5 percent) as the most preferred areas. Less important certifications included Microsoft-unspecified (5 percent), Cisco (3 percent) and Microsoft-MCSE (2 percent).

“While layoffs dominate the headlines, IT managers are still struggling to find the right people to keep the technology infrastructure moving forward and are identifying vendor-neutral certification as a means of filling those support positions,” said John Engman, director of JOBS+, the workforce development program at CompTIA. “To more effectively address this challenge, CIOs and HR executives must be better aligned in the value they place on both hard, technical skills and soft, communication skills, and must work more closely together in identifying both recruiting and training problems and the solutions to those problems.”

Despite the increased shortage, companies are more optimistic now than they were in 1999 about the availability of qualified IT staff. In 2001, 51 percent of CIOs say the availability of qualified candidates for computer service and support jobs will improve greatly or slightly in the next two years, compared with 43 percent who responded similarly in the 1999 survey.

The research also found that companies are using less expensive recruitment methods to identify IT candidates. CIOs are more likely to use national advertising (23 percent in 2001 vs. 11 percent in 1999), local advertising (67 percent vs. 58 percent), and Internet job banks (38 percent vs. 21 percent). Companies are less likely to train their own staff (65 percent in 2001 vs. 75 percent in 1999) or increase salaries (50 percent vs. 55 percent) to fill IT positions.

Not only are there available IT positions, but Computerworld’s 15th Annual Salary Survey found that base salaries for IT professionals continued to grow faster than those paid to the average American worker.

The survey of IT executives uncovered a steady 6 percent increase over 2000 in the salaries of IT professionals ranging from senior management to entry-level positions. Although this represents a moderate pay hike, it is greater than the 4 percent wage growth typically received by the average American worker. The bad news is that, despite salary increases, 80 percent of IT managers are eschewing quarterly and biannual salary reviews in the face of the economic downturn and are returning strictly to annual reviews. Half of the companies surveyed reported that they have frozen signing bonuses and stock options at previous levels, while 20 percent have eliminated such perks altogether.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on CyberAtlas, an site.