IT Talent Crunch Echoes a Bigger Problem

Delcie Bean IV was one of the panelists at a forum on entrepreneurship hosted recently by the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network. He devoted most all of his roughly five minutes of mic time to what he called a “crisis” intruding upon his industry — the IT sector.

It involves a distinct and disturbing shortage of talent, noted Bean, founder and president of Paragus Strategic IT, who used mostly the future tense to talk about the matter, but hinted strongly that the problem is, in many respects, already here.

He and his colleagues in the IT sphere dissect the matter in greater detail for a story in this issue of BusinessWest (page 36). They talk about how the talent crunch is real and stifling growth opportunities; about how this development seems to make little sense, because there are jobs with good wages available and few individuals seemingly willing to position themselves to take advantage; about how they plunder good workers from each other, often with higher wages as the requisite carrot, a tactic with short-term benefits but long-term consequences; and about how they’re not sure when, or even if, the situation will improve appreciably.

They were all talking about IT, but in many respects, they were speaking about the economy as a whole. Indeed, you could easily substitute software designers and computer-related business owners with manufacturers, nursing-home operators, and even players in the hospitality industry, and the conversation would be essentially the same.

The question remains: where will the workers come from?

As they talked about the matter, those in the IT sector speculated that some might be scared away by the seemingly complex nature of the work in that realm and the notion that they’re not smart enough to thrive in it, when the opposite is generally true.

Joel Mollison, president of Northeast IT in West Springfield, hinted strongly at this when he said, “the tech field can be a bit overwhelming if you’re not absolutely sure that’s where you want to be.”

Others noted how the so-called Millennials tend to follow their passions, not just a paycheck, and wonder out loud how to get people passionate about a career still described with terms such as ‘Geek Squad.’

The answer comes with creating some passion, or something approaching it, and here again, we’re not just talking about IT. This also holds for the manufacturing sector, which suffers not only from lingering misperceptions about what this field is like, but the real fear that jobs in that sector will be sent offshore or to a lower-cost state.

Creating passion for designing software or troubleshooting IT problems will not be easy, but this is the direction our society and our economy are heading in, and talented individuals will be needed to keep things humming.

What’s needed are more programs that will encourage young people — and when we say young, we mean elementary-school age — that such careers are attractive, potentially lucrative, and attainable. At the same time, we need to emphasize quality-of-life issues here in Western Mass., and thus convince those who do have the requisite aptitude for this work that they don’t have to leave the area to launch a career.

Bean went so far as to express the hope that a television show, CSI: Cyber, might fuel interest in this sector in the same way that The Big Bang Theory has for physics.

We hope his optimism is warranted, but industry leaders know it will take more than TV shows to ensure that not only the IT field, but all sectors of the economy will have enough of that most precious commodity moving forward: talent.

That’s because the crisis is already here.

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