Nov 15 ’13

How CIOs Can Help Build and Maintain Teams of Talent: An Interview With David Keirsted

by Editor in Enterprise Executive

Enterprise Executive recently visited with David Keirsted, director and product manager Information Technology (IT) Americas Group for Kelly Services, Inc., to learn what factors are causing a shortage of talent in the IT space and how CIOs can become good stewards of talent. David is responsible for creating and implementing IT workforce strategies, including contingent labor, direct hire, Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Contingent Workforce Outsourcing (CWO).

EE: Many people are talking about the shortage of talent in the IT space. Is this true and what’s causing it?

Keirsted: Yes, I do believe there’s definitely a shortage of talent in the IT space and it’s going to continue to get worse before it gets better. I say this because as I continually talk with IT executives, they tell me they’re having difficulty finding some of the key talent needed to fill critical positions. Certain areas of IT are more difficult than others to locate experienced talent, especially when seeking staff in areas of high-end application development. When you look at some of the data that’s being released—either employment data or graduation rate data—I think it backs up what I’m hearing from IT executives.

During the last decade, graduation rates for computer science degrees have declined about 25 percent overall. There were sharper declines earlier in the first six or seven years before graduation rates rebounded a little in 2009 and 2010. That’s also coupled with what we’re seeing in terms of the employment numbers. The employment rate for IT hovers around 3.5 percent, but if you dig deeper in certain areas, such as software programming and some of the network engineering areas, it’s closer to 2.5 percent. That’s worrisome due to the increasing demand for IT talent and the decrease in the graduation rate. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast job growth for 2010 through 2020 based on employment data, they’re anticipating that IT job growth is going to be about 21 percent.

The result is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. If you look at some of the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] data that’s being released based on future employment projections, four of the top eight highest growth jobs are coming from IT. All of these dynamics are really impacting the ability for CIOs to find IT talent.

EE: How so?

Keirsted: Well, you have the labor pressure, increase in job growth and the declining graduation rate. This confluence of factors is causing a shortage of IT talent. When these factors are more closely reviewed, you can see certain areas where the graduation rates for computer science are not keeping pace with the demographics for graduation rates in other disciplines. For example, if you look at women in particular who are pursuing a degree in computer science vs. pursuing other technology careers, that’s a very underdeveloped area of IT. While the number of women graduating has significantly increased, the number of women graduating with computer science degrees isn’t increasing.

EE: If good talent is a highly sought after resource with fewer individuals coming into the workforce every year and demand is increasing, what do CIOs need to focus on to become good stewards of talent?

Keirsted: This is something I’ve been talking with CIOs and other managers about over the last year. We conduct a survey every year—the Kelly Global Workforce survey—and we’ve reviewed about 300 IT leaders in the U.S. Sixty-three percent of them stated that the lack of IT talent is going to have a negative impact in their organization due to the resulting skills gap.

CIOs really need to take a look at how to become good stewards of talent. Most experts agree that STEM jobs are essential to our growing economy and vital to our nation’s competitiveness. The computer-related area of technology within the U.S. comprises 49 percent of STEM employment. That’s almost half of all STEM employment! Demand is going to continue to increase, and we simply don’t have the supply of talent we need to satisfy the demand. So, CIOs really need to look at treating and nurturing the talent resources they do possess in terms of stores of talent like you would a scarce resource that’s diminishing.

How do you engage with this type of scarce, difficult to replace talent to nurture and grow the team? There are two important steps to follow:

1. Be sure to retain the workforce you have today. In the same workforce studies I mentioned earlier, we’re also asking IT employees what they think about their jobs. The results show there are a significant number of IT employees who are considering changing jobs. In fact, 43 percent said they’re considering quitting their current job and looking for a new job in 2013. It’s really important for CIOs to keep and continuously nurture their current IT staff.

To successfully accomplish keeping and nurturing current IT staff means understanding what motivates them and the generational culture differences. From what do they derive value? What will cause them to stay? Determining what motivates the different members of your workforce is important. For example, a young, recently graduated Java programmer—maybe a twenty-something—is going to be motivated differently from someone who’s a key staff member supporting some of your legacy systems and has been at your company for 20 to 30 years.

Every time I ask what staff members value most, everyone initially points to increased compensation. Do you automatically need to offer increased compensation? Being competitive in the marketplace in terms of compensation is important, but there are many other factors that can keep staff from switching jobs, especially since most would prefer to stay with their current employer than switch. Maybe an individual values additional training, flexibility in work hours or the ability to work in a different location. There are many different items that staff value and you need to understand them from a generational perspective. CIOs need to think about their staff and what they’re going to do to retain them.

2. Building the power of your company’s brand to attract new talent is important. When we’re working with a CIO—especially in areas where they’re struggling to fill critical, key positions—we do a lot of research on what’s happening locally in their market. CIOs really need to understand the local job market dynamics in terms of the other companies they’re competing against to hire for exactly the same positions, and the influence of their brand on that workforce. So, we educate CIOs on who is in their marketplace, what’s typically being offered in terms of total packages, what’s attractive about the specific positions and how to make their company more attractive to candidates than their competitor just down the road.

EE: How is the IT workforce of today different than 10 to 15 years ago?

Keirsted: There are at least three ways today’s IT workforce differs from 10 to 15 years ago. First, the pace of technology change is accelerating faster and faster. Companies are continuing to deploy new technologies and must frequently review the skillsets they need in their organization. It’s no longer as simple as developing a workforce plan and executing it for the next couple of years. The need for talent is dynamic and changing.

Second, the way CIOs can access talent has changed as well. While the labor pressures are greater, there are different areas CIOs can look at for obtaining talent. One is to look geographically to determine where you need to go to get the desired talent. There’s a broader base of talent today that CIOs have access to globally than at any time in the past.

Third, another difference is the multigenerational aspect of available IT talent. Today, there are at least three to four different age generations of IT professionals with different skills and skill levels. Some have significant mainframe skills. Others have vast skills in distributed computing such as maintaining Windows and UNIX servers. Still others have multiplatform application programming skills. Of course, there are also IT professionals who are skilled in security, storage management, database management systems and other information technologies. There are also differences in non-technical experience that pertain to both methodical means of performing IT tasks to minimize disruption to the business and the size of the business in which the experience was obtained.

CIOs need to carefully consider what they need from an experience, platform and work culture perspective to build and maintain the teams of talent needed to serve the business.

EE: How can the IT industry attract younger generations and women into computer science and other STEM careers?

Keirsted: MIT annually produces the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. One aspect of the index is surveying younger generations—the 16 to 25 age group—and talking with them about various, different careers and what interests them. More than 60 percent of this surveyed age group in 2012 said they don’t see themselves going into STEM careers at all.

Attracting younger generations and women into computer science is really the key for the future of IT because we need greater numbers in order to meet future demand. We need to reach out to them when they’re in their middle and high school years, and are considering various careers, so we can educate them about what it’s like to work in IT.

We need to pursue educating today’s middle and high school students in several different ways. First, we need to debunk the stereotypes about what an IT job entails. It isn’t necessarily sitting in front of a computer screen writing code all day or monitoring systems for performance and uptime. Today’s middle and high school students need to understand the vastness of careers within IT, and how IT relates to other areas of business, government organizations, utilities, healthcare and other industry sectors.

Second, we need to start engaging these young students. For example, we should offer internships, co-op studies and other types of exposure to various IT careers.

Third, we need to target women, young girls and minorities to educate them about careers in IT. The 2009 to 2010 graduation rates for women with computer science degrees were less than 14 percent (13.8 percent). If you look at Hispanics, it was only 7 percent for a rapidly growing population within the U.S. We aren’t tapping into the brain-power resources of today’s students who will be tomorrow’s college graduates and directing them to any type of STEM career let alone into the area of IT. We need to change this situation.

EE: Are there any examples of companies or industries that are becoming good stewards of talent and developing their own resources?

Keirsted: Yes, several companies and government agencies are taking a long-term approach and becoming good stewards of talent. There are companies that are investing time, resources and talent from their company into schools that specialize in STEM educations. One such school is the National Academy Foundation, which has schools across the U.S. They work to develop younger generations, create enthusiasm and excitement for science, technology, engineering and math, and move them in that direction to college careers. There are also companies and organizations in the U.S. that either hire students majoring in IT upon graduation or invite current employees with certain skills to move into IT and “grow their own” teams of talent.

The one industry that’s consistently investing in growing IT talent is the high-tech industry. Technology and IT talent are the lifeblood of this industry. Companies in the high-tech industry are investing in schools—the middle and high school areas—but they’re also looking at how to tap into non-computer science degreed individuals and train them. These companies look for young individuals who have great communication or analytical thinking skills and are able to apply knowledge quickly. Some of these companies will take six to nine months and train them. Sometimes there’s a lot of classroom training to get these individuals certified in a particular area of technology in addition to “on the job training,” which is also important. The high-tech industry is the one industry that’s probably ahead of all others, but they’ve been forced to because they can’t grow if they don’t have the talent. Let’s hope a few other industries learn this lesson soon.