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HR partnership key to combatting IT talent shortage

CIO Curt Carver is taking on the IT talent shortage with a broad array of tactics, starting with a rock-solid relationship with HR.

As vice president and CIO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Curt Carver is tackling the IT talent shortage with a broad arsenal of hiring tactics.

He has begun working strategically with HR; he's formed unique partnerships that tap into younger or unconventional IT talent; and he's providing employees with analytics, security and business intelligence (BI) expertise a greater incentive to stay at UAB.

"While we don't do pay raises every year, we do merit pay; I will tell you that we allocate more to security and business intelligence in terms of merit pay to retain those employees because they're a hot commodity," Carver said.

Today, CIOs from all industries and companies of all sizes are competing for tech talent. The high demand versus supply is putting pressure on senior IT leaders, according to "IT Talent Crisis: Proven Advice from CIOs and HR Leaders," a vendor-sponsored report from the Harvard Business Review Analytics Services. "CIOs in historically low-tech industries (think local governments, law firms, real estate, manufacturing) must compete for talent with the likes of Google and Amazon," the report stated.

The new reality requires new behavior, according to experts.

The IT talent shortage

Carver was one of a handful of CIOs interviewed for the "IT Talent Crisis" report, and he agreed with the title: CIOs are in the midst of a crisis. "There's a transformation taking place in the workplace due to digitization. There's a transformation taking place in higher education. And there's a transformation within technology," he said. "All three forces are coming to bear on this problem and creating a broadening of what experiences count."

University and state CIOs aren't the only ones feeling the pressure. Just this year, the Harvey Nash/KPMG 2016 CIO Survey reported 65% of its 3,352 senior IT respondents believe a skills shortage is holding them back -- up from 59% last year. Gartner's 2016 CIO Agenda report noted something similar: 27% of senior IT leaders identified a lack of skills and resources as the No. 1 barrier to success. And the 2016 IT Talent Assessment Survey from the CIO Executive Council at IDG found only 8% of its 131 IT leader respondents had a robust, strong talent pipeline.

The reality is, three out of five IT leaders -- 60% -- say that it is more challenging to attract excellent IT talent than it was three years ago.
Brendan McGowanglobal media bureau and client research manager, CIO Executive Council at IDG

"The reality is, three out of five IT leaders -- 60% -- say that it is more challenging to attract excellent IT talent than it was three years ago," said Brendan McGowan, global media bureau and client research manager who wrote and oversaw the survey for the CIO Executive Council.

Nor is the demand for IT talent expected to lessen. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology jobs will grow by 12% from 2014 to 2024, creating almost a half million new jobs.

"Every company is driven by technology, so this is a pervasive issue that goes beyond the confines of the IT department," McGowan said.

The IT-HR relationship

The University of Alabama's Carver is relying on his partnership with HR to erase the hiring crunch this year. Building a strong relationship with HR took work. His strategy to incentivize analytics, security and BI expertise differently from other employees, for example, didn't initially sit well with the human resources department. Looking at it from a universitywide perspective, HR saw it as creating "internal salary inequities," Carver said.

Today, the IT-HR relationship is on more solid footing. The two departments share an HR consultant -- "our bridge," Carver said. Having a shared HR resource has resulted in the deployment of a number of initiatives over the last year, he said, which, "in many cases, the university has seen as good ideas and adopted universitywide."

One of the most critical weapons in a CIO's arsenal is a strong relationship with the HR department, according to the "IT Talent Crisis" report. "With tech talent crucial to organizational success, CIOs and their HR counterparts must work together to change the paradigm for how they attract and cultivate talent," the report read. The CIO Executive Council's McGowan agreed that the partnership with HR is "absolutely crucial. You need to make sure you're articulating what you need, particularly for entry-level roles," he said.

IT skill set, reconsidered

Indeed, one of Carver's strategies is to reconsider the skill set required by positions within IT. "It used to be that we were only going to hire people with four-year degrees," he said. "That's no longer true."

Certain entry-level IT positions don't require computer science expertise, Carver said. He pointed to log file triage, responsive programming and working the help desk as examples. "[Help desk] requires some degree of technical skill," he said, "but really requires communication skills, coordination skills, an ability to work within a team."

These nontechnical hires do require training, but the training can come from internships, certificate programs, coding camps and organizations like Year Up, a one-year study and work program for urban youth. "I love computer science and I love computer science majors, but there are more jobs than we can fill right now and there are great candidates that can come from programs like Year Up," Carver said.

Broadening who gets hired -- and how they get hired -- has been a win-win for Carver. He has found new avenues to fill entry-level IT positions, and his new hires often receive the kind of training they need for subsequent jobs, he said.

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