IT staffing time bomb set to explode in US

Adverse factors combine to create a calamity

North American IT shops may well be facing a staffing perfect storm, according to industry research company Ovum.

Two big challenges are certain -- a mass retirement of baby boomers that promises to deplete staff and starve many companies of critical skills; and a shortage of replacements due to a smaller crop of college graduates and a dramatic decline in students majoring in and planning to enter IT-related fields. The impact of a third challenge -- the inevitable, but largely unpredictable trends toward outsourcing and offshoring -- remains uncertain.

There are a number of steps that companies can take now to address current requirements and many others that corporations, in partnership with government organisations and educational institutions, must take to pre-empt even greater challenges in the future. The first step, however, is to do something that only a small percentage of US corporations have done; acknowledge the nature and extent of the problem and the need to address it.

Twenty-five million baby boomers are planning to retire over the next 12 years. Few companies have begun to chart a course for retaining these skills or for managing a smooth transition to a new generation of employees.

Only about five million people are expected to enter the workforce in the period during which 25 million will retire. The percentage of these people going to college is actually declining, with the percentage of these that are majoring in computer science declining by about 50 per cent. And even if IT departments can find qualified people, they will face big new challenges in recruiting and retaining them.

The first step companies must take to address near-term IT staffing shortfalls is to totally reassess the skills they will need over the next five to 10 years, rather than attempt to duplicate or replace current skills. The last step, which must be integrated into each of the other steps, is to determine exactly which skills should be retained in-house, and which should be outsourced.

Individual companies must assume responsibility for developing strategic programs for addressing their staffing requirements. Unfortunately, the combination of three big structural challenges will mandate big compromises. The only true way of addressing these structural challenges is for leading IT vendors to work together to craft a historic coalition between the private sector, educational institutions, and government organisations.

Len Rust is publisher of The Rust Report

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