IT Management

We’ve heard it so many times before, but there’s a reason the shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers in the U .S. is a constant topic of conversation in the IT industry. The shortage is persisting— but it’s not like the work is lifting. Corporations have a drive to innovate like never before, to bring products and services to market more quickly and to gather vast amounts of customer data to understand their customers’ buying behavior. This means the demand for talent, and especially for highly specialized skills, is on the rise.

And yet the U .S. continues to churn out fewer and fewer STEM and computer science graduates. In fact, the U .S. has one of the lowest ratios of STEM to non-STEM bachelor’s degree graduates in the world, according to a finding by the N ational Science Board in 2012. And even top U .S. students who have the intelligence and ability to become future science and technology innovators are eschewing careers in STEM fields.

What does this all add up to? It’s not just the shortage of future workers that’s worrisome. According to the latest findings of the Kelly Global Workforce Index (KGWI), an annual survey that gauges workplace satisfaction across global industries, 62 percent of current IT workers, unsurprisingly, are confident that their skills are in high demand. Seventy-three percent believe they could easily get a similar or better position elsewhere if needed. These statistics are playing out in real life, where IT workers end up constantly looking for the next opportunity where they might be able to develop their skills even further, get a promotion or receive a significant bump in pay.

Meanwhile, in the actual workplace, the shortage of qualified workers ends up being a constant challenge for managers, not to mention a drain on productivity when companies have to continually recruit, hire and train talent to fill their most pressing and critical positions.

Because of this looming, ever present scenario in IT today, it is critical that corporations and senior management understand what will be required of them now and in the future to hold on to their valuable employees. But because of today’s talent shortage, it’s not just about focused programs or compensation packages to retain just “top talent,” the top performing 15 to 20 percent of the company. It’s about programs or activities to be directed at all of the organization.

All of these facts add up to a stark reality for IT companies and their managers. Collectively, they’ve got to find a way to attract, and more important, retain and develop talent in more innovative ways that go beyond simply offering a bigger paycheck.

Those companies and managers who will be the most successful in figuring it out will most certainly come to understand the factors that continue to drive IT workers away from their jobs: a perceived lack of advancement, poor management, and lack of training and development. The latest KGWI survey results show that these are the top three factors cited by IT workers when they decide to leave a job. Forty-seven percent of IT talent feel that the lack of career management in their day-to-day employment is the number one reason they would leave their current job if given the right opportunity.

Fortunately, in these issues also lies the answer: Career development—i.e., career planning and management—is clearly important to today’s IT workers. If management can find effective ways to help their employees further their own careers, they may be pleasantly surprised how their people respond to such efforts and how far it goes in helping to retain such valuable human capital.

Of course, career management is something that we ultimately are all individually responsible for. No talented employee today should turn over his or her career development to their manager. But management can actually be very effective and instrumental in helping their employees translate their career goals into an executable plan. Such efforts can go a long way in instilling loyalty among the workforce, helping companies in the long run to retain, grow and even attract highly skilled workers.

There are several things a manager can do right now to help his or her employees forge a better career and at the same time improve retention. The first step in the process is working with your employees to understand their career goals based on their interests, skills, experience and values.

The next step ideally involves identifying the skills and experience necessary for that next position. Managers should encourage their employees to conduct self-assessments of their interests, values and personalities as well as get input from co-workers to help them make better career choices in the long run.

A skills development plan sponsored by the employer should combine both formal and on-the-job training. If employers were also able to help their employees build relationships and expand their internal and external network as a part of career development, it would instill in the workforce the belief that the company truly cares about the long-term success of its employees.

Unfortunately, these are things often left on the wayside with so many other pressing matters on the job. It’s understandable—every organization has a bottom line, with goals to meet and customers to service in order to remain viable. The tasks at hand often seem like the most important. Still, it is crucial for companies to start making the development of their workers a priority because the future of an IT organization depends on it as demand for the talent is likely to grow. The best talent will continue to seek out the employers who can help them achieve their career advancement goals.