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The IT Talent Challenge

Insights from CIOs and Technology Staffing Leaders On Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

While many of the fundamental drivers of success in business remain constant, the environment in which technology leaders and staffing and solutions firms operate has changed dramatically. We brought together a panel of IT leaders and technology staffing executives at the TechServe Alliance Executive Summit, to talk about the challenges and opportunities they see in the near future and beyond. During this candid conversation, the CIOs and IT staffing executives focused on how best to respond to and leverage the seismic shift in the economic, business, and employment landscape, as well as how to move beyond transactional client-staffing firm relationships to cultivate true partnerships.

The panel was moderated by Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe Alliance, and Mark Taylor, CEO of the Society for Information Management (SIM). The panelists were:

  • Sunny Ackerman, President, Americas of SThree
  • Erica Hausheer, SVP & CIO of Teradata
  • Joel Leege, EVP & Chief Strategy Officer of Randstad Technologies Group
  • Lance Ralls, Chief Technology Officer of ThreeSixty Group / MerchSource

Below are a few of the highlights from the lively and informative discussion.

Recession and Economic Headwinds-Effect on Talent Acquisition

Mark Taylor: Simultaneously, there is talk of recession and economic headwinds, as well as an ongoing talent shortage crisis. What has the changing economic landscape meant to your talent acquisition appetite and efforts?

Erica: Six months ago, I was losing talent. People were getting twice their salary in some of our low-cost locations. Now, as people are looking at the economy, they’re hanging onto their jobs, they want to be in a good place. It’s a time of turbulence. It’s a time of indecision as a CIO and for the employees. So I come back to knowing who my top talent is, and leaning in on what’s important to them, because what’s around us right now is uncertainty.

Lance: We were hiring pretty aggressively and doing very well. Now, we’re less certain – especially about Q1 of 2023 – and we’re holding off on our hiring. We’re looking more for short-term contractors. And I’m really focused on the leadership team I have, making sure we’re doing the right things to keep our talent.

Joel:We’ve seen single digit growth going into Q4. It’s a reflection of our customers that are hesitant, but at the same time, we have more orders than we could ever fill. So it’s about the prioritization of what we’re doing. I would definitely say we’ve seen a deceleration on the direct hire side.

Sunny: We’ve seen a slowdown in permanent hire as a leading indicator over the past few months. In perm placement there’s been a pullback on our contracts. We’re seeing job postings being pulled down, some being canceled. Our job flow has slowed down a bit. We’re seeing hiring managers be a bit more cautious around the interview process

The New Normal-Remote, Hybrid, and In-person

Mark Roberts: We’re all contending with the ‘New Normal’, the remote vs. hybrid vs. in-person debate. There are tremendous opportunities in expanding the talent pool, but also challenges in collaboration, oversight, and maintaining company culture. How are you thinking about this dynamic?

Lance: Our organization has adopted a three-day hybrid model. I’ve let our executives know that our technology people don’t need to be in the office, period. If they say they want an engineer in Savannah, Georgia, I ask them why. They can travel, they can do the work. It’s a struggle for us. I think it’s hurting us a bit, because we’re so rigid with our three day in-office approach that we’re losing potential candidates.

Erica:We’re used to working with global teams, and our company has adopted a truly virtual approach. Only a third of the CEO’s leadership team works at the headquarters. We’ve really embraced the approach of going after the best talent possible and not worrying about where they live. There’s some extra creativity required to recreate the conversations in the hallway and the cafeteria, but it’s allowing us to retain talent because we’re allowing people to live where they want.

Sunny: We continue to struggle with some clients. They say they need people onsite, and it sometimes means challenging the client around that. Educating them about the limitations they’ll face in the type of talent they’re looking for. Working with them to understand the overabundance of jobs, and the limited talent base we have to work with. Really helping them to understand the importance of remote or hybrid

Joel: Our company acquired a small firm that was generating really strong EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). What they did with their real estate dollars was to put it back into a quarterly trip for their team, and they meet every quarter together. They do a lot of work, and they celebrate. They didn’t say, “Oh, look at these cost savings, look at what we have.” They put it back into the people, and the culture, and that’s worked really well for them.

How to be an Employer of Choice

Mark Roberts: In today’s market for talent, what makes a company an ‘Employer of Choice’?

Joel: There’s a company where in every IT employee’s job description, they were required to be in a recruiting event once a month. They bring all their developers into the lunchroom. They give them food. They all grab their laptops. They talk about the talent gaps they’re going to have for the next quarter. And they all get on their LinkedIn and find friends who have those skills, and recruit them. 68% of their hires come from internal referrals. I think you become an employer of choice when your people are your brand, and they’re recruiting for you.

Sunny: Younger workers in particular are demanding that organizations look at DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) as well. They’re looking for organizations where the leadership team reflects those aspects.

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

Mark Taylor: With a record low 2.3% unemployment in IT, what innovative and creative strategies have you implemented – or seen others implement – to attract and retain talent?

Erica: First, make sure that what you sell your company as, is what your company truly is. If it’s not, employees will very quickly pick up on the difference. The other thing for us is building a community by recruiting employees’ friends, and friends of those friends. We’re building stickiness. It’s hard for someone to tell their friend that they’re leaving to go to a new job. Finally on that point, we’ve started creating what we call arranged friends. We pair people with someone in their geography, and ask them to connect. They all learn about another person they work with, but sometimes they blossom into enduring friendships.

Lance: We’re a smaller company, so we have to get creative. Technology is moving so fast. My approach is to find somebody who has a good skill set, that’s maybe not an expert in this specific system we have, or this area. We have to open up and find those folks that aren’t at the highest level, and wouldn’t necessarily go to the bigger companies.

Cultivating Successful Client-Staffing Firm Relationships

Mark Roberts: When working with an IT staffing firm, what can IT leaders do to increase the likelihood of success?

Sunny: We’ve taken some inspiration from a global organization I know of where some of their recruiters have turned into internal headhunters, identifying people who can be promoted and developed internally. They recruit them within the organization and promote them globally. We’re doing the same thing. Focusing more on the talent we have, versus bringing new talent in. Technologists in particular are always looking for new skills and competencies. They want to learn more. If you’re a CIO looking at candidates, think about the additional experience you can give them to continue to enhance their career.

Joel: Think partners rather than vendors. I’ve seen a number of organizations where every month, or quarter, they share their talent gaps with a roundtable of their staffing firms. They tell those firms where they’re moving, and where they anticipate their shortages will be. If we can build a pipeline for them, and if there’s a partnership there, it makes us all so much more successful. If you treat staffing firms as an extension of your organization, that partnership is invaluable.

Mark Roberts: How are you balancing what you do internally with relying on IT staffing firms or IT solutions partners? And what characteristics make for a good partnership?

Lance: When I go into a new company, I have a consultant mentality. I’m in new companies every few years. So I’ll go in and let them know that to be able to recruit the talent we need, we’ll work internally. But I’m also going to work with someone externally as well because my teams are too small. I can’t wait around for six months for my internal team to figure it out.

Erica: It is really important that the companies you use for flexible workers are truly partners. Take the time to understand my goals and my strategies, and bring your industry expertise. There may be things I want to do that aren’t feasible. Tell me that. If I think I can hire people in one place for the same price as another low-cost location, and I’m not going to be able to do that anymore, tell me that. Listen to my goals and strategies. Give me the industry perspective. We’ll build a plan together, and learn and adjust along the way

Lance: I lay out all the cards from our perspective, and where I think our shortfalls are, too. The way we’re trying to be hybrid, for example. I’ll let them know how we’re working on that so our partner can help us figure that out.

The Future of Tech Talent & Acquisition

Mark Taylor: Where do you see the future of talent, and talent acquisition? What does the future look like for you?

Sunny: I think the supply and demand challenges will continue, and it’s about tapping into diverse talent pools, expanding your reach. Thinking about people you haven’t thought of before, thinking about skilling up. People might not have 90% of what you’re looking for, but they’ve got 70% and the competency and desire to get there. Think about what you’re doing to encourage that talent.

Erica: I want to have the broadest pool available to me. I think about diversity of experience, of ethnicity, of gender. I want people in my company who’ve worked at big companies, little companies, mid-market companies. That diversity needs to be reflected. When people look up, do they see somebody who looks like them?

Joel: When I think about growing, I think about nearshoring opportunities. When we talk about the Americas – Mexico and South America – from a technology perspective, there’s a great opportunity there. We don’t have enough skilled workers in the United States to get it done.

Lance: I think it’s important to be bilingual. You can be a business person that learns technology. If you’re a technologist, you need to start understanding the business to be truly effective. That’s critical to us as we’re looking around, to have that bilingual capability.

Missed the event?

There was much more to the discussion between the industry panelists and moderators, including a Q&A session at the end. Make sure to check out the full recording here.

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