Looming talent war could stall IT projects

While there is an abundance of IT projects planned in coming months, CIOs are warning of a looming skills shortage that could stall rollouts.

But for many companies, the recruitment and development of future IT leaders remains a back-burner concern.

"As long as tech organizations can run reasonably effectively, there is no imperative to focus on leadership development," according to Jerry Bartlett, CIO at TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation. But, he added, that's a shortsighted view. "My biggest concern is that by giving short shrift [to IT leadership], there will be a lack of extraordinary leaders in the next generation," Bartlett said.

At TD Ameritrade, Bartlett has paid out of his own budget for an 18-month program that involves a full day of management training each month and pairs trainees with executive mentors. The program requires "quite a commitment" from participants, he said.

A leadership training program is now being rolled out to all 800 members of the IT staff.

Unisys HR director Melanie Laing says there is a talent war unfolding in Australia despite the Department of Immigration increasing skilled migrant visas by 20,000 in the 2005/06 financial year.

Under the current program nearly 98,000 skilled worker visas are granted which is a 280 percent increase from 1997/98.

Laing said the only way for companies to address the problem is to implement talent management programs.

The program, she said, should cover three stages - first is to identify up-and-coming talent for inclusion in the program, the second stage is developing high performers from middle and senior management to planning for succession.

"Develop the program with a limited number of employees to lay the foundation for creating, testing and evolving a successful strategy for the entire organization," Laing said.

Research shows that the most positive feedback for such programs is received by male managers over the age of 35 with at least 10 years experience working for the same company.

But flexibility is key, she said, because many of today's managers are either female, under 35, and have less than 10 years experience at a particular company.

"Programs need to be flexible to be effective and rewards are an important part of acknowledging success," she said.

"In Australia work-life balance and flexible working hours are concerns across the board; generation X and Y workers are often looking for bonus incentives and rapid promotion."

The third stage is mentoring and coaching, which is also central to a successful program, Laing said.

"Talent shortage has really started to become a significant boardroom issue, because it has grown to such large proportions and will only get worse," she added. w - with Eric Lai

Great IT leaders have to be made, execs say

To Kay Palmer, promoting techies into management jobs solely because they have a neat appearance and some people skills isn't the best way to pick the IT leaders of tomorrow. "Often, you lose your best technician and get only a so-so manager," she said last week.

Palmer, CIO at JB Hunt Transport, led the development of an IT management training program that has been adopted by the transport company's human resources department for use in other parts of the business. "We really did end up with better managers as a result of this," Palmer said.

Palmer strongly believes in surveys showing that the performance of employees is most directly correlated with the quality of their bosses, not with their salaries or corporate culture.

The program created by Palmer to identify and train future leaders from among JB Hunt's 340-person IT team has three parts. First, management aspirants are identified through recommendations and profiled via a battery of evaluations, such as the Myers-Briggs personality test.

Trainees are then assigned an industrial psychologist from outside the company -- their "office coach" in Palmer's words -- who works with them on personal development issues and assigns homework. The third phase, which is being piloted now, involves mentoring from executives who work in other parts of the company.

As part of the training, managerial candidates also take classes and engage in role-playing scenarios, often in front of actual managers. "When the senior leadership is watching, there is real risk and pressure," Palmer said.

- Eric Lai

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