This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

CIOs May Face Staffing Challenges

The year ahead promises plenty of staffing challenges; as usual, greater agility will help.

As IT employment opportunities expand, turnover rates rise. You will be challenged to retain key staff members, and especially to reduce churn among younger workers.

The US employment statistics for December are out (here is the government's report), and the trends are moving in a good direction. 200,000 jobs were added in the month and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, from an adjusted 8.7 percent in November.

As Tom Murphy wrote here last week, the IT job market is looking brighter as well. This is good news for job-seekers, but will add to the difficulty of retaining valuable employees. Expect greater mobility as well as job poaching, according to Network World:

An October 2011 survey of 300 IT professionals... found that more than half -- 54 percent -- want to explore other job options when the job market picks up and 41 percent feel that they've been left behind in their careers because of the poor economy... The IT staff turnover rate -- which rose from 3 percent to 5 percent in 2011, according to Gartner... could hit the high single digits by the end of 2012.

Salaries for technical positions have been rising during 2011, especially in geographical areas experiencing real shortages of tech talent such as California, Texas, and New York. If salaries at your shop have not kept pace with the market, your employees could find 2012 the best time in years to look for something more rewarding. "I haven't seen tons of [poaching] in 2011, but I'm expecting it in 2012," notes one Midwest recruiter as quoted in Network World. "Smart recruiters are going to call the organizations where they know the people aren't happy."

What's a CIO to do? Be agile. Be proactive with compensation, flexible work arrangements, and exposure to emerging technologies for your least replaceable people. Formal workforce planning will help you to identify those people. CIOs should "compile a workforce plan two or three years into the future, including the most critical roles, the demographics of the people in those roles, and the risk to the organization if those people leave... [and] make an effort to have Baby Boomers transfer their knowledge to younger staff before they retire," according to Gartner vice president Lily Mok, quoted at Info World.

The Thing with Younger Workers

An interview with Louis Trebino, CIO and senior vice president at the Harry Fox Agency in New York City, explores some of the tensions many CIOs feel as they recruit and try to retain qualified younger workers. "No sooner does [Trebino] hire a Java programmer and train him in the company's music industry niche, than the programmer is recruited away for a higher salary. Indeed, everyone on Trebino's six-person Java development team has less than one year of experience" with the company.

"They are looking for much more aggressive career development opportunities and the ability to learn new things quicker," Network World quotes the peripatetic Lily Mok. "Only think about being able to retain them for two or three years. If nothing happens, they will leave after their first year of employment." Trebino puts it this way: "Learning the ropes is not as interesting to them."

Trebino continues, "It's a younger workforce. They have different needs, different requirements, and different desires than our slightly older workforce. I'm seeing them being much more [transient.] It's much more challenging to get the newer generation of folks interested in trying to understand the business vs. looking only at the technology."

The View from the Other Side

The comments on that Network World interview are well worth reading (the author has summarized the highlights here). Many of the comments were written by tech workers, some in the demographic that Trebino is addressing. Their take on the situation is... bracing.

A 20-something IT professional wrote, "I never set out to switch jobs after a year, but in each situation where this took place, it just seemed like the right move. A 30 percent increase in salary is tough to resist, as well as the ability to learn more."

An older IT worker added, "I cheer these young people in their choice to go where they are rewarded either monetarily or with other incentives. I feel that the management level is so far disconnected on what motivates the younger workforce today. No longer is money the only incentive."

Another commenter summarized the situation this way: "It seems fairly clear that the VP has the answers he needs, he just doesn't want to act on them. The obvious ones are the pay, the workload, and the ability to work from home. Those should all be easy to fix."

Then there are the Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom are reaching retirement age now. But that's another blog post.