“At least AI should sort the talent gap,” joked Paul, a tech HR Director, with a propensity for dark humour.
Actually, what with AI “taking all our jobs” and the raft of well publicised tech layoffs lately, you’d expect the talent pool to be overflowing (total IT staff cuts in 2023 already being greater than the whole of last year).
And yet … Gartner anticipates that demand for tech talent will continue to exceed supply through 2026.
I’ve just come off a Zoom with a US CIO friend, Mitch, who described the situation as “attritional”.
Resourcing IT Projects is getting harder rather than easier, globally, despite high-profile layoffs at tech giants including Amazon, Cisco, Meta, Microsoft, Google, IBM, SAP, and Salesforce and a wide range of smaller firms, you’d think, swelling the available talent supply in those markets.
A recent Gartner survey found almost nine out of ten CIOs (86%) said they faced stiffer competition for qualified tech talent, more than seven out of ten (73%) expressed concern about IT talent attrition.
There’s little sign of a truce in the IT Project talent war.
Winning the war is going to take some creative thinking.
NEW TALENT PIPELINES
Mitch, the US CIO, has decided to, as he puts it … “fish outside the pool”.
Transferrable skills are what Mitch is looking for in what he calls the ‘ROLE Program’ (Relevant Off-Line Experience). The rationale being that if you can find people with the essential critical thinking and decision-making skills, with an interest in or passion for tech and IT, you can teach them how to use a Gantt chart. It doesn’t matter that they honed these skills elsewhere, in fact it’s often a bonus.
So far it’s working for him. An Air Traffic Controller, a lawyer, a call centre representative, and even a school vice principal have switched careers and joined the programme (for that’s how it’s spelt Mitch), citing less stress, better work life balance and the opportunity to indulge their passion (make a living out of their hobby) as reasons for leaving their old jobs behind. I smiled at “less stress” (project management can be anything but that), but I guess if you’ve landed a Boeing 737 in a head wind, the prospect of scope creep hits differently.
We’re very protective of our profession, rightly so, what we do is more than a job. The role you play in delivering an IT Project, whether as a Project Manager, a Business Analyst, right up to CIO, makes you a craftsman or woman, in my view. That said, what we do, can be taught, after all, I’m still learning, and I bet you are too.
As a provider of ‘as a Service’ project talent, we always champion the value of a new perspective, fresh pair of eyes or baggage-free point of view – imagine the negotiating skills that a lawyer might bring to the table! Thinking about it, as someone who has felt like a plate-spinning-stage-act on more than one occasion, I’d welcome a chance to learn from someone who’s kept a class full of U.S. inner-city ninth graders in check!
RETHINKING THE IT TALENT PIPELINE
Seems Mitch is not alone. Writing for CIO.com in April, Beth Stackpole shared other examples in her article RETHINKING THE IT TALENT PIPELINE.
Insurance provider The Hartford boasts in its website’s ‘about us’ section of “a culture where our employees can thrive”. Their HartCode Academy, featured in Beth’s article, is “an internal program designed to help nontechnical employees make the leap into software development.”
Former call centre representative and claims adjuster, Amanda Merola who despite a “natural interest in computers” and a “proclivity for problem-solving”, had no previous technical background joined the HartCode Academy’s inaugural class. After months of bootcamp learning and “self-directed training” she landed a job as a junior coder. Now she is a senior software engineer, “writing code, promoting agile practices, and working with business partners to advance The Hartford’s digital agenda.”
Amanda says the programme (for that’s how it’s spelt Beth) “changed my life and my career path completely,” telling CIO.com, “I never thought I could actually have a career in something that I was interested in outside of what my day-to-day job was at the time.”
DIFFERENT WAR – DIFFERENT THINKING
My CIO friend Mitch, referring to the talent war as attritional, is interesting. I remember from history lessons at school that a war of attrition would be won when one army wears their enemy down to the point of physical collapse, when their will to fight and morale had reached such levels that they were unable to sustain their campaign. We can’t afford to be worn down. That’s why new ways of thinking are so important.
Tom Connolly, CHRO at Kingsley Gate Partners told CIO.com, “The fundamental difference in this talent war is that previously, it’s been cyclical and this one is structural.”
I agree and it is going to take a whole new level of thought to win this war. We must reframe the question. Instead of asking “where are we going to get tech people?” let’s ask “where can we find the individuals who can be the tech people of the future?” This opens a solution space for critical thinkers and decision makers from other walks of life to refresh and recharge the IT project talent pipeline.
Tom Connolly told CIO.com, “You used to be able to buy people (*) or rely on the education system to pull people through so there was a ready supply of trained technical people. Today, those two strategies are no longer enough. Now, it’s about managing people for who they can be tomorrow, not for who they are today.” Interesting.
(*) YOU STILL CAN ‘BUY’ PEOPLE – PROJECT MANAGEMENT AS A SERVICE
When Tom Connolly says, “you used to be able to buy people”, I think he’s referring to enticing talent from your rival with higher salaries, lucrative bonuses and better perks. At first, as a provider of ‘as a Service’ project talent and resources, I read it differently – and in this respect you can still ‘buy people’. Or rather, for that seemingly unfillable opportunity, talent gap, or capability and competency lack that you have, there IS an ‘as a Service’ solution. If you know where to look!
Stoneseed client, Freeman Clarke, who are one of the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (fractional) CIOs, CTOs, and IT Directors, have called on the team of Project Managers, Business Analysts, Technical Advisory and PMO experts available via Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) model, to compliment and assist in their client’s delivery programmes. Steve Clarke, Founder, and Director of Freeman Clarke said “Our CTOs and CIOs are often leading complex programmes for our clients, but don’t want or need full time project management resources to run the individual projects. Stoneseed has consistently provided well qualified and skilled Project Managers to lead our projects and they are our go-to company for part-time project managers and other project related resources.”
Utilising PMaaS resources may give you the breathing space you need to build your internal team, or like many Stoneseed clients, it may open a space to reassess your project resourcing entirely.
A Head of Project Management at a large UK communications and IT services provider, and Stoneseed client, once wrote, “In a delivery world of fluctuating and reactive demand, the ability to draw down from a framework of high quality, capable PM resources at short notice has proved invaluable to successes achieved. The Stoneseed model provides flexibility, quality resources and a supportive way of working which has enhanced our permanent pool of project delivery capability.”
This was about five years ago!! “Fluctuating and reactive demand” is still a great description of our current environment, and it is not going to get any easier, remember Gartner’s forecast – “demand for tech talent will continue to exceed supply through 2026!”
IT organisations have traditionally fished the same talent pools, shown an ankle to catch the eye of the same talent, and that is yielding ever decreasing returns.
We have to up our game – whether that means a more creative approach and widening your recruitment net or having Stoneseed on speed dial to rapidly access “as a Service” resourcing solutions.
Your talent pipeline is your project / programme lifeline and attritional challenges, by their nature, will gradually wear you into submission.
Ultimately, our only option is to face them … together, with energy, resourcefulness, purpose, and determination – that’s how we will win the talent war.
According to data compiled by an online tracker keeping tabs on job losses in the technology sector 943 tech companies have laid off about 226,117 staff so far this year, compared to 164,411 layoffs last year. https://layoffs.fyi/