IT jobs get hot as baby boomers retire

While talent pool shrinks, job-seeking IT professionals have the upper hand

IT managers facing the inevitable loss of skills due to retiring baby boomers must look to new audiences to recruit top talent and retain skilled IT workers, according to industry research firm.

"The IT job market is hot once again. High demand for constrained pool has shifted the leverage to candidates," the Forrester report reads. The research firm this week released a paper detailing best practices in recruiting IT talent and recently examined in another June report how the loss of baby boomers would affect U.S. IT departments.

"It professionals have more options and are pickier in their employment choices. Because there is great demand, IT workers, especially those with highly sought after skills, require extra wooing from IT leaders," Forrester says.

Adding to the demand is the fact that fewer young people are looking to IT for careers. According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, there was a 70% decline in interest in the computer-science majors between 2000 and 2005 and a 17% drop in computer-science graduates since 2005. In response, Forrester says CIOs will have to expand their searches for talent beyond existing enterprise IT workers and sell the cultural benefits of working in IT on top of considerable compensation packages.

"CIOs who fail to face the problem head-on within IT will face shortages that affect IT's ability to deliver on strategic business plans," one Forrester report reads. "CIOs must diversify their talent pool by drawing from college students, current IT professionals and business professionals instead of targeting other enterprise IT professionals as the primary source of talent."

Forrester recommends CIOs look to potential candidates before they reach their college years, because many students may not have considered the industry for their careers. Others may have been exposed to the cultural stigma of working in the IT field, because of the massive loss of jobs after the dot-com bubble burst.

IT managers also should continue to target colleges and universities that may be a good match for the company based on IT and business enrollment. The research firm says CIOs should send representatives into local schools to present at career days, job fairs or in the schools' computer classes. Internships are another way to attract young talent to your IT organization, the research firm says.

Current IT professionals represent the next logical pool of potential candidates. Forrester says IT leaders may need to revamp their existing approach to recruiting IT talent and engage with human resources to find the right matches for IT positions. One often-overlooked area is IT contractors, Forrester points out; many workers will remain on contract because the pay is usually higher than that of salaried employees.

"CIOs need to periodically review their contractor base to determine if they are employable," the report reads. Sunset clauses in work agreements with contactors can help IT managers avoid overpaying for services via outsourced workers for too long, the research firm says. "Otherwise, happy contractors are content to ride the gravy train for years -- commanding fees that cost more than if they drew a salary."

Last, Forrester recommends that IT hiring managers look outside IT departments to business groups for potential candidates. "IT leaders should already be marketing the accomplishments of the IT organization to business users, but these programs need to market the careers aspect of [IT] as well," Forrester says.

Ultimately, IT managers must act now to address the impending loss when existing staff retires and to avoid a drop in IT candidates as demand for technology skills increases and the supply fails to keep up, Forrester says.

"As the baby-boomer shortage places pressure on certain skill sets, the principles of supply and demand will take hold. Organizations within your industry in particular, but also in tangentially related industries will vie for the same dwindling pool of resources," Forrester says. "Competitors will be trying to attract the best and the brightest in the industry. Formulate plans to keep your best, or you won't keep them."

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