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4 new IT workforce realities

Does the “battle for talent” have to be a forever war?

By Thornton May, Columnist, CIO 

JULY 18, 2022

Talent compass pointing to the most highly skilled jobs hiring


Every day the headlines remind us just how fragile/broken the human supply chain is. At the height of the pandemic we discovered severe shortages of truck drivers, meat packers, and emergency room nurses. As we limp through the frustratingly elongated ramp toward a post-COVID world we are experiencing significant shortages of coders, butchers, bakers, pilots, waiters/waitresses, hospitality workers, cashiers and tax preparers/reviewers.

In every corner of our economy there is a massive imbalance between the demand for talent and the supply.

Talent shortages are certainly not a new thing in IT. Colleagues who have been operating IT executives for over 40 years tell me that talent management is an issue every year.

It’s hard to imagine that there has ever been a time or will ever be a time when talent management—attracting, onboarding, training, developing, and retaining IT professionals with the skills necessary to create digital value—will not be an issue.

Understanding generational differences

Moving forward, CIOs will have to be very granular in their approaches to managing the human side of digital value creation. The days of one-size-fits-all human resource policies are behind us.

I hypothesize that to effectively manage IT talent today requires understanding the demographic situation of the contemporary workplace. In the U.S. IT labor market today, you have four generations banging together:

  • Gen Z born 1997-2012, age 10-25;
  • Millennials born 1981-1996, age 26-41;
  • Gen X born 1965-1980, age 42-57; and
  • Boomers born 1946-1964, age 58-76.

Each of these generations consists of roughly about 70 million potential workers. And each of these generations have very different ideas about work, careers, and what constitutes success.

I predict that CIOs are going to be spending a lot of their time resolving generational conflicts. We had a preview of this in March of 2022 when millennial Kim Kardashian called out women of today [Gen Z] during a Variety interview declaiming, “it seems nobody wants to work these days.” In 2021, the New York Times tackled the issue, reporting that “The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them.”

Gen Z is having a big impact on how IT work happens. They bring a new boldness regarding their willingness to express what they like and dislike about work; they are comfortable putting their individual needs in front of the needs of the employer. (It is important to note that Gen Z is not so much anti-work as it is anti-work structure—i.e., assumptions regarding how long to work, where to work, and when to work.)

Next-gen talent management requires positioning the needs of the organization as being consistent with those of the individual.

The New Realities

For a host of reasons, ranging from generational differences and COVID to declines in global workforce participation rates, skill gaps will persist. Data from training company Global Knowledge found that 76 percent of global IT decisionmakers are dealing with critical skills gaps on their teams.

I forecast four new realities facing IT leaders in the years ahead:

You will get strategic about skill building. Organizations are stepping up and announcing making serious investments in worker overall well-being and future success. Walmart has pledged $1 billion over the next five years toward upskilling its workforce of 2.2 million global associates.

Organizations need to develop short-form programs aimed at creating the skills that are really needed. This is frequently done with external educational partners.

You will fine-tune benefits packages. Work experience and workplace “vibe” are major issues for potential employees. Employers have become remarkably creative in crafting benefit packages and work situations that appeal to a new generation of workers. One can expect fertility benefits, extended parental leave, massage therapy, and paid leave for pet adoption to be discussed.

You will measure and respond to employee satisfaction. Organizations need to continually ask for employee feedback and demonstrate that it’s being listened to and addressed. All too frequently companies ask questions but don’t actually want to hear the answer.

You will pay more. It is a skill-sellers market out there, and there is massive transparency regarding what “the going rate” is for certain skill sets.

The good news

Socrates’ third principle applies here: Excellence/skill (ἀρετή- arete) is teachable and learnable.

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