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IT execs forced to adopt new recruitment tactics

Can't find skilled workers? Perhaps you're just looking in all the wrong places.

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CIOs claim to have a tough time hiring skilled IT workers, but experts say it's probably because they're looking in all the wrong places.

Blame the shortage of skilled workers on an aging workforce or kids who no longer yearn to make computing their careers. Either way, the problem isn't going to go away anytime soon.

A Society for Information Management study said that by 2010, more than 21 million new jobs will be created in the U.S., but only 17 million new employees will enter the workforce. Add to that the Bureau of Labor Statistics findings that say the IT industry is the fastest-growing sector in the U.S. economy, with a projected 68% increase in output growth through 2012, meaning the industry will take an even bigger blow.

We need to nurture that budding talent.
William "Buddy" Gillespie
CIOWellSpan Health Care
"There's definitely been a drop in the number of students going into IT," said Robert Rosen, president of the technology user group Share. "One reason is the bad press and the other is the parents that had a bad experience [with IT] and they're saying 'that's not the career to go into.' Well, I don't care what discipline it is, they all have their ups and downs. Right now we're dealing with a perception problem."

To make matters worse, a recent IBM survey of more than 400 companies worldwide found that nearly 75% of those polled said employees' lack of job skills are the biggest barrier to growth and innovation. So not only is the pool of IT workers shrinking, but the pool of workers with specific skills seems to be shriveling up as well. Particularly hard-hit are disciplines in legacy systems such as the mainframe.

But it's not all doom and gloom. There are several organizations, such as Share and the Society for Information Management (SIM), working to close the gap. IBM is partnering with nearly 2,000 universities and 11,000 teachers to create a ground base of students with the right technology skills.

In the meantime, why not start looking at interns? If you're tapping that college kid to fetch your coffee and make copies, you're shortchanging yourself and him, say experts.

Kate Kaiser, an associate IT professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, said organizations tends to be more inclined to go midlevel when looking to hire. "Some firms have never hired entry-level people." This, she said, is a big mistake.

"These guys are more likely to have the right skills because they came in as interns and you've had the opportunity to train them," said Kaiser, a member of the Society for Information Management and lead author of the SIM study The Information technology Workforce: Trends and Implications 2005-2008. "They learn the business, the technology and the culture. That's not something that I can give them in the classroom."

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Hiring interns full time is a trend that Kaiser said is starting to take root. In fact, a recent poll by the Computing Technology Industry Association Inc. found that 49% of organizations surveyed said they were hiring interns for their IT departments, a 6% percent increase from the previous year. While no guarantee, students hired as interns are more likely to get hired full time after graduation.

"Ten years ago it was difficult to recruit," said William "Buddy" Gillespie, a CIO at WellSpan Health Care in York, Pa. But the situation is much better these days. In fact, not only is the area a growing hub of data centers attracting a large pool of workers, but it also has ties to York College and Pennsylvania State University.

"We work closely with the internship programs, and that really helps," he said. He added that many of the interns are eventually hired as full-time employees. "We need to nurture that budding talent. All these things come back to benefit us as well."

Share, a 50-year-old group providing user-driven education and resources for IT professionals, is at the forefront of training younger professionals. The job has not been easy for Rosen, the group's president, but he says signs are hopeful. Rosen is a passionate advocate of education, in particular, internship programs.

"Start intern programs in your company," he said. "Recruit early." CIOs should go to colleges and universities. "They are so receptive to the opportunity to provide real-world opportunities to students."

Timothy Knutson is probably someone you'd want to hire (if he were available). Knutson, who was nurtured on computers (his mother brought home his first when he was only in third grade), is a recent computer graduate of Marquette University. He recently landed a job in the Milwaukee offices of consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture Ltd., after an internship at GE Healthcare did not pan out. But Knutson has no hard feelings.

"It was an excellent experience," he said. Although, the program at GE Healthcare was extremely competitive, he was given a lot of room to work on his own and ended up carrying an entire project after a manager left unexpectedly. Having those project management skills in IT under his belt paved the way for his new job at Accenture.

Knutson began college in pursuit of a business degree but eventually changed over to a degree in IT with a business bent, which he said, is not to be confused with a degree in computer science. "I thought there wasn't enough that computer science could teach me that I couldn't teach myself."

As a former intern, his advice to CIOs: Develop a stronger internship program. "I think that's when you find your best candidate. Those that can cultivate their interns are the ones that can get the right people."

CIOs might also want to rework job descriptions. In his interview experience (seven interviews) as a young graduate, Knutson said some job descriptions are asking for way more than what the employer actually wants. Instead of getting a pool of higher-qualified candidates, CIOs are eliminating some very good candidates. "I knew a lot of students who wouldn't even give it a try," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kate Evans-Correia, News Director

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