This article originally appeared in ON Magazine.

It’s long been documented that attracting, retaining, and nourishing IT talent is the biggest barrier to a CIO’s success. In fact, according to Gartner’s 2017 CIO report, CIOs across the board identify lack of skills and other human resources as their No. 1 barrier to success.

“The IT talent deficit is among the most pressing challenges organizations face today,” says Bill Thompson, Carousel’s EVP of Product and Service.  “The number of specialized IT jobs that need to be filled is simply growing faster than the rate that the marketplace can produce people to fill them. Further, many organizations struggle to retain top technology talent once they get them in the door, creating uncertainty within critical aspects of business operation and continuity.”

Just consider the following statistics, according to the 2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey:

  • Around the globe, CIOs report facing the highest level of skills shortage since the 2008 recession
  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of CIOs surveyed said they believe the talent shortage will prevent them from keeping pace with technology changes
  • Data analytics is the biggest area in which CIOs feel there is a skills gap

Whether it’s trying to find an engineer to migrate your business to Office365, or bringing on board a cyber security expert to safeguard your critical infrastructure, many businesses struggle to fill talent gaps around core technology areas such as cloud, unified communications and collaboration (UC&C), and security.

A Mounting Problem
There are several factors contributing to the growth of the IT talent deficit. Among them are the fact that:

  • The evolution of cloud platforms, storage concepts, collaboration tools and network protocols is moving at a breakneck speed—meaning that the IT skill sets needed today often become antiquated just months later.
  • The competing priorities of organizational “run” and “growth” tasks keep IT staffers from driving transformation in their businesses.
  • Because it’s a “buyer’s market” for IT practitioners, today’s businesses must create stellar corporate cultures to not only attract but to retain top talent.

And the results have harrowing implications for businesses. Not only does it take longer than ever to find the right talent—for example, a recent survey found that 21% of cyber security jobs requiring 10+ years of experience take a year or more to fill—but once you get top talent in the door, you are always at risk of losing your team member to the next company.

“To attract the right talent, you have to hire and retain an outstanding team because superstars
want to work with other superstars,” says Tim Hebert, Carousel’s Chief Client Officer. “It’s all about culture. You have to have an awesome work environment, and that’s everything from culture to the right tools to the right office space, and ample opportunity for personal and professional growth.”

So how can you build a strategy for sidestepping the IT talent deficit? Let’s explore…

Develop a Talent Strategy
It’s imperative for today’s IT leaders to make talent, not just technology, a part of their overall IT strategy. Successful companies are focusing on creating programs that attract, develop and retain IT talent. They also refrain from reacting to a series of fire drills of finding replacements for the recently departed. To do this, they choose someone who had the perfect combination of hard and soft skills, but may take longer to come across-versus accepting the first candidate to come through the door and potentially producing less than stellar outcomes for their team.

At Abiomed, a leading manufacturer of medical devices that provide circulatory support, the company’s IT organization is taking critical steps forward in developing a more robust talent strategy. The Massachusetts-based company’s IT organization is comprised of 20 professionals, led by Greg Olen, Director of IT. One of the immediate initiatives Olen is focusing on is creating a formal internship program that will serve as a feeder system for top talent into the IT organization.

“Today, we look for people who have much wider skill sets, yet we find that candidates can be a bit narrow in their skill sets coming out of school in terms of what they can handle. Our top challenge has been finding candidates who have adaptability to different technologies and are able to come in and cover a lot of ground,” he says. “We are trying to address that by creating a more formal internship program that will serve as a pipeline for talent.”

In addition to having a talent strategy around attracting top candidates, Olen is also focused on retaining key employees on his team. Aside from offering his team regular training and the chance to attend educational conferences, Olen implemented a mentor program that enables him to take less-experienced professionals and pair them with senior members in the IT organization. He also tries to make sure that each member of the IT team understands how their work contributes to the company’s overall mission of a patient-first culture.

“We have patient days where patients come in and talk about how the technology saved their lives,” Olen explains. “It’s important for my team to understand the role they play in that so they can go home knowing they have made a contribution to our mission. I make sure I can tie what we are doing in the IT shop to the end result of having patients’ lives saved.”

Olen also ensures that there is an open line of communication with his team so that each member understands what is expected of them, their short- and long-term goals and how their work impacts the larger organization. “It’s about staying close to your team,” he adds.

Invest in the Right Tech
It’s hard enough to attract top talent, but once you on-board them, you need to empower them to perform their jobs effectively by investing in best-of-breed technologies. To enjoy peak levels of performance and productivity, IT leaders need to pinpoint and leverage the right tool sets that can address critical IT tasks like monitoring, remote problem resolution, process management, disaster recovery, remote work … the list goes on. There are a number of key areas in which top IT talent wants to invest, including:

  • Cloud: Today’s businesses are increasingly casting their eye toward cloud solutions to help them increase agility, improve collaboration and cut costs. Top talent will want to help you leverage the benefits of a cloud deployment model so be willing to explore the efficiencies to be had with this route. (Unsure if you’re ready for the cloud? Click here to learn about our Cloud Readiness Assessment)
  • UC&C: From videoconferencing to presence technology, today’s next-gen UC&C platforms offer a multitude of functionality. (Click here to learn about modern UC&C platforms)
  • Security: Superstar IT talent will be eager to dive into a layered approach to security. Encourage them to stretch their minds as it relates to next-gen firewalls, endpoint security and NAC. (Looking for a new approach to cyber security? Click here.)

At Abiomed, the IT organization recently implemented ServiceNow, an advanced IT operations management and ticketing platform.

“It’s a much more modern ticketing toolset that allows our IT team to better interact with our employees, understand their priorities and communicate seamlessly,” says Olen. “A technology like this helps ensure that our employees and IT staffers feel supported.”

Consider Managed Services
To combat the IT talent deficit, many companies are looking toward third-party providers for support. In fact, the managed services market is estimated to grow from $145.33 billion in 2016 to $242.45 billion by 2021, according to a recent MarketsandMarkets report. “The reality is that because of the crippling IT talent deficit, today’s businesses are increasingly looking to team with experienced IT services providers that can not only help with the day-to-day tasks associated with keeping the lights on, but also with the more strategic initiatives that help companies derive positive business outcomes,” explains Rich Montefusco, Carousel’s VP of Managed Services.

“The right partner can drive the complexity out of IT decisions and expedite an organization’s ability to evolve.” At Carousel, for example, we’ve been helping clients for more than two decades solve their IT challenges—whether that’s a hospital looking to bring remote patient monitoring to its institution or a higher education institution looking to safeguard its security perimeter. We become an extension of our client’s IT departments, helping them identify the right technologies that will drive the biggest impact.

A Stronger IT Team
The bridge to a stronger IT team is there—you just have to figure out the model in which you will build your team. “There is great talent out there—whether you are looking to bring in top talent full-time or tap into a talent pool via a managed services provider,” explains Hebert. “However, it’s competitive to get a hold of these rock stars and even more challenging to keep them on board.”

“The reality is that today’s IT organizations cannot afford to settle for mediocre talent,” he adds. “The impetus to drive transformation and make quantifiable impact to the business has never been greater. Fortunately, with the right attention to attracting and retaining top talent—and a willingness to approach the talent deficit differently—you can bring newfound strength to your IT team.”

For more on how to sidestep the IT talent deficit, click here to download a step-by-step guide.