Finding IT Staff – A Barrier to Success?

I recently attended an event with an audience full of senior IT managers and staff.  The agenda largely included vendors and technologists discussing evolving technologies and challenges covering a broad spectrum of solutions.  At one point a speaker presented a Gartner slide to make a point about rapid changes in technology being a major barrier facing US based CIOs.  Being a staffing guy a different bullet on the slide jumped out at me so I took a picture with my phone for later reference.

Turns out I did not need the picture as a reminder since the first question at the end of that presentation had to do with the line item that had jumped out at me.  The person asked, based on the earlier slide, what the speaker saw as the answer to the bullet that had jumped out to me on the Gartner slide.  Based on the reaction of the room it was clear this question was on nearly everyone else’s mind as well.

And what was on this slide that had caught the attention of IT leaders from around the region?  Gartners annual survey of 910 US based CIOs indicated that they felt finding resources was the top barrier to their success.  In fact – 28% of them listed that as the top challenge.  To put it in perspective – the second highest challenge was budget and it came in at 15%.


In terms of breakdown – the areas that have the most resource need for these CIOs are led by Business Intelligence (BI) at 39% followed by Infrastructure/Data Center at 28% and Security is close behind at 25%.  The skills in those spaces very closely match the roles we see the most competition for in the market today.

Gartner reported that 71% of the US based CIOs believe the scarcity of talent is reaching crisis levels.  Here in our office this is a topic of conversation we have in some form on a daily basis.  When meeting with our clients we have a similar conversation – albeit from a “how do we solve this at our company” perspective.  If you look around a bit you will see many related issues and stories running in parallel.

H1 Visas

The H1B program needs a significant overhaul.  It is stopping companies from being able to make these hires – and many have given up trying.  Some companies end up partnering with the H1B clearing houses to try and find a match which often leads to a bad experience or a series of one contract resource after another trying to do a job.  This is frustrating for the company and the candidates.

The question of how many H1B Visas should be granted each year is at the forefront of this election cycle.  Many, possibly most, Americans do not understand this issue.  Being in the staffing business and hearing politicians discuss the topic (which we believe is an issue) makes it clear that very few of them understand it either.  While we agree that the program as designed could be very helpful for companies that need to add a skill not available in their market – however what we observe on a daily basis is a system that is poorly executed and managed.  A system that is being gamed by several large companies.

Late last year the NY Times ran a great article that featured a small US company in need of a specific IT skillset.  They identified a candidate from France and filed the paperwork to sponsor him for an H1 Visa.  The way the system is set up they had to compete with large consultancies submitting thousands of Visa applications into a lottery and hope his number got drawn.  It didn’t.

Rather than adding more H1 Visas – which many of our politicians support – we should require them to be for a real company with a specific job opening.  These visas should not go to consultancies that bring people over and then find work.  That is how people lose their jobs to a contractor with an H1 Visa.  The program was not intended to do that.

While these large companies are the sponsors for these thousands of Visas they do not in fact always have work waiting for them when the candidate arrives in the US.  We get calls and emails every day at TSP from these companies looking to match their people to any and all  job openings on our Jobs page.  Again, this is not how the program is supposed to work.

College Graduates

With the current demand for a solution to the cost of a college education – and the number of software developers who are taking alternative paths to learning – the timing is right for companies to come up with creative solutions at the local level.

The cost of college and the lack of employment opportunities for recent graduates receives regular media coverage.  While a variety of sources have shown that prospects have brightened a bit this year – like this Washington Post article from the spring – many graduates remain underemployed in the job market today.


When working with our clients – particularly small and mid-sized businesses – we often ask about how they are finding and developing new talent.  Obviously they have come to us which indicates they find it challenging.  But in the current environment companies need to be more creative and proactive than ever before.  In fact the Gartner recommendation is that businesses treat staff/resources as a technology platform in and of itself.  The approach we recommend and have seen several clients implement successfully is to hire a candidate with potential and train them in the required technologies.  Does it take longer?  Sure.

For mid-sized clients we have also seen some have success with Technology development programs.  While large enterprise companies have had this type of program in place for some time small and mid-sized companies must also consider this strategy.  Bringing someone on board who is willing and ready to learn technology in support of these companies is a very logical next step.  A smart approach to using senior, local consultative resources can make this a success story for professionals at varying stages of their careers as well which seems to me a huge potential win.


Underemployment plagues college students – but it is common up and down the seniority chart.  Waves of layoffs have left senior IT professionals contracting or working small consulting engagements.  Mid-level professionals have found themselves at the top of the salary range in their region and unable to move.  Junior technology candidates can’t find opportunities to move forward in their careers.

Which brings us back to a small or mid-size company hiring a junior candidate for a role.  What do these companies do while bringing someone up to speed?  Great question.  And for that we turn to another group of candidates who are often looking for more work.  In the contract community we find many experienced professionals who lean more consultant than contractor – and the one thing they lack is someone developing a pipeline of good opportunities for them.  We are often able to bring one of these resources on board to handle the heavy lifting and to mentor the more junior resource.  By approaching it as a consultative engagement this candidate is able to maintain their own client base while adding additional revenue to their bottom line.

We regularly monitor open jobs in the region to help our current clients and look for potential opportunities to work with new clients.  It is not uncommon to see tough to fill roles stay open for six to twelve months or more.  With our existing clients we always discuss the option of hiring someone who can grow into the role once it becomes clear the candidate they want is not available in the market.  In the year a role like this sits open they could have hired someone at a lower rate who was ready to grow into the role and had them trained.  By doing so they open that person’s prior role up to someone else who is looking to move forward – hopefully creating a ripple effect down the job chain if you will.


Finding IT resources is a challenge.  Our company would not exist if that were not true.  Gartner’s study is a great visualization of just how big a challenge the CIO community thinks it is.  We work every day with clients trying to solve their problems.  There are resources with great potential out there in the H1 Visa program, college campuses and underemployed professionals.  At the local level we can implement some of these programs today.  College hiring, technology development programs and working with experienced local consultants are all options available to small and mid-sized businesses right now.  By treating staff as an IT platform and looking at these and other options (internal staff development, partnerships, vendor management, etc.) I believe we have the existing resources to solve most of our nation’s IT staffing problems today.  Until the H1 program is run as it was intended it is not viable for small to mid-sized businesses which is a shame.  With some work at the national level we can make progress toward change in that arena as well.  With a properly functioning H1 program our ability to manage resource challenges will only improve.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear in the comments.