The IT talent crisis: how the CIO’s approach to hiring needs to change in the digital era

The shift to a digital economy is creating a talent crisis that is putting the future of many organisations in jeopardy. Competition for a finite pool of skilled technologists is increasing as organisations of all types rely more heavily on digital technology. At the same time, the nature of the skills that organisations need in IT is changing. Digital business is being built cloud-first and mobile-first, and is heavily dependent on analytics, automation and new security models. Skills that were important a few years ago are fast becoming irrelevant, and the higher-level skills now in demand are scarce.

Barrier to CIO success

According to Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda, this lack of talent is the biggest issue facing IT leaders worldwide, and 22% of CIOs surveyed believe not having access to skills and resources is their main barrier to achieving business goals. The biggest skills gaps are apparent around big data, analytics, and information management. This is consistent with the results of the latest Harvey Nash global CIO study which we discussed in a recent blog, which also identified big data and analytics as the functions that are suffering most from a skills shortage. More than half (59%) of IT leaders surveyed by Harvey Nash believe the skills shortage will prevent their organisations from keeping up with the pace of digital change.

A new partnership

According to Gartner, the problem is that talent management practices are not keeping up with the ever-increasing and changing needs of the digital world. The classic approach to HR management of filling specific slots on an organisational chart doesn’t work well in the current dynamic environment. In a recent report titled IT Talent Crisis: Proven advice from CIOs and HR Leaders, the Harvard Business Review highlights the need for IT and HR leaders to collaborate to develop new ways of attracting and retaining technical talent. Together, they can change the paradigm for how they attract and cultivate talent and bring more flexibility to the process.

One CIO featured in the report believes that to compete on talent today, “We need to flip that [traditional approach] around and instead identify people with interesting and uncommon capabilities and then design the job to get maximum contribution from them.” Now, the most important thing to look for in new hires is not their specific skills but rather the characteristics and aptitudes they can bring to an organisation, such as a passion for data and analytics, the ability to creatively problem solve, and the willingness to pivot in the face of change. In such a fast-paced environment, a CIO’s talent strategy should be to “hire for characteristics and train for skills”.

It’s also important to rethink the organisational chart regularly and keep it flexible. As an example, the University of Alabama’s CIO, Curt Carver, overhauls it every 12 to 18 months, which he believes is necessary to keep up with the pace of change. He says, “To plan for an IT future, you’ve got to be agile and hungry, and that agility has to be demonstrated by strategic plans that are being updated and changed. This then flows down to new roles and “constant training.”

Future-proofing talent

Whether it’s finding qualified data scientists or preventing their best engineers from being poached, most IT leaders nowadays are facing a talent crisis to some degree. Surviving skills shortage is becoming a critical component in an organisation’s ability to compete and succeed in the digital economy. CIOs must collaborate with HR leaders to overhaul legacy approaches to attracting, cultivating and retaining IT talent that is capable of keeping up with the demands of digital transformation. Together they can work on creating a more progressive, development-focused approach to talent management. This means taking a creative approach to sourcing and recognising that the skills needed today are not likely to be the skills needed tomorrow. The CIOs that build the strongest IT teams will help ensure their organisations’ place in the digital future.

Are you a CIO or IT manager? Come along to the Sydney CIO Summit next Tuesday 9th August.

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Tags CIO, Digital Transformation, CIO Leadership, CIO summit, IT leaders, IT talent, IT skills


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