As the words ‘pandemic’ and ‘COVID’ were becoming common household names (albeit dreaded ones) in February 2020, McKinsey published the result of a new global survey on future workforce needs. One of the findings was:
Nearly nine in every ten of the executives and managers surveyed said their organizations either face skill gaps already, or expect gaps to develop within the next five years.
A month later, in March 2020, most of the world went into lockdown which disrupted almost all aspects of our lives, including how we worked. Overnight, organizations had to figure out how to keep operating with employees working remotely, and it was IT’s role to make it happen.
In June 2020, in an interview with CIO Connect magazine, I shared the decisions I had to make as the CIO for Sofina Foods during the first few months of the pandemic to allow it to continue its operation. I discussed the implications for business and the impact on our employees. In a nutshell, 2020 was a year when almost every business was utilizing all its IT capabilities to stay afloat. We all hoped for some level of stability in 2021, but it also turned out to be a rollercoaster ride.
The pandemic has brought many new challenges for CIOs but it didn’t reduce any of the pre-pandemic ones. CIOs still had their cybersecurity, regularity requirements, talent scarcity, data privacy and security, multiple competing priorities, legacy applications and digital transformation challenges, to name a few, while also having to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on business.
Among all IT challenges, the majority of them have one thing in common - lack of skilled talent. Of course, this is not a new issue, but the pandemic has greatly exacerbated it. With many people working remotely and continuing to perform their tasks, both employers and employees have come to realize that both access to and the range of available talent is becoming less and less bound by geography. This revelation has significantly increased the competition for talent.
A Gartner survey conducted in September 2021 revealed that: IT executives see the talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies, compared with just 4% in 2020.
Going back to the McKinsey survey, it found that: Although most respondents say their organizations consider it a priority to address skill shortages, few say their organizations understand how to equip themselves with the workforce skills they will need most.
I firmly believe the number one priority in 2022 for CIOs should be addressing the tech talent shortage. CIOs should take the lead in encouraging and enabling their organizations to take a three-pronged approach to address the tech talent shortage.
1. Invest in developing internal talent
CIOs should take the lead in investing the necessary resources to develop talented employees, rather than fighting over the same limited pool of talent in the market. This will also improve employee retention rates, productivity, corporate culture and employees’ sense of belonging.
2. Develop internship pipelines
Schools claim their job is to educate, not to train, which is an interesting discussion on its own. That aside, organizations should develop a clear plan to attract students from various disciplines, not just tech-focused programs. More importantly, CIOs should work with their teams to build actionable agendas for interns, so they can be trained quickly and engaged in meaningful activities to make them productive team members.
3. Restructure IT teams and tasks to attract highly skilled semi-retired tech talent
Most organizations and CIOs engage highly skilled and semi-retired tech talent haphazardly. They join organizations through referrals or purely by luck, and most positions are not designed for talent that may be interested in part-time contract work. As in the case of interns, CIOs should work with HR to create roles and related job descriptions which focus specifically on this segment of the talent pool. Job postings should clearly target this group. There is a tremendous untapped talent pool that is barely utilized.
In conclusion, unless CIOs take concrete steps to address the tech talent shortage by creating actionable plans, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the tech talent gap will continue to grow.
The October 2020 report from the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) revealed that preparing for and preventing pandemics is a lot less expensive than responding to one. It counts the response costs so far at $11 trillion, with a future loss of $10 trillion in earnings. By comparison, investments in preparedness would be an additional $5 per person per year – or about $39 billion. Perhaps this finding will help convince organizations and CIOs to take a proactive approach in addressing the tech talent shortage.
Faramarz Farahani is a passionate technology strategist and implementer based in Toronto, Canada. His multi-industry and functional-technical experience, including 10 years as CIO, has been gained at several national and international companies in Canada and the United States, including leading teams in UK and India. He is a member of the SoftwareONE Advisory Board and Board Advisor – Digital & Sustainable Transformation with 4P Consulting.