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Don’t Surrender in the Fight for IT Talent

It comes as no surprise that the war for talent is raging on throughout the U.S. Reports out this week warn of the increasingly widening gap between employers and job seekers, with the highest number of job openings available against a historically low number of potential recruits… with no relief in sight.
While multiple business segments are reporting labor shortages, nowhere is the war for talent more evident than in the data center halls of large and medium enterprises. With the rapid (and rabid) hunger for cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) technology advancement, signs indicate that finding skilled -- leading, bleeding-edge workers -- is only going to become more difficult.
The Battlefield Strategy
To address the gap, Silicon Valley pockets continue to deepen in the form of retention bonuses and salaries to match for top engineers and technicians. The call of tech unicorns for job seekers with dreams of large, lucrative stock options and flashy employee perks notwithstanding, recent reports indicate the big names in cloud and AI -- Google, Amazon, and Microsoft -- have offered six-figure hiring as well as golden-handcuff employee bonuses to stave off poaching by rivals. The effects have been felt throughout the industry.
A recent search of for cloud DevOps engineers found more than 2,275 positions available in the Valley alone and more than 38,000 open across the nation. Job openings for AI engineers found similar numbers -- 2,200 and 33,000, respectively. Couple just these two key positions with the record number of denials of H-1B Visa applications to supplement these openings in the first quarter of 2019, as reported by Dice in April, and IT leaders are genuinely (and rightly!) concerned.
What is an IT leader to do? Perhaps one of the strongest ways to combat the shortage is to find talent and innovation in non-traditional places.
Look for Innovation and Unicorns Within
With the rise of cloud applications driving change, applications as well as architecture and their champions exist across the entire enterprise. The data center, the contact center, the phone system, the CRM and ERP systems, edge computing, and even the (somewhat vaporware) world of the Internet of Things (IoT) require skill sets now found across the enterprise and not just in the IT department.
That isn’t to say that your next DevOps person is sitting in your accounting department (although he or she might be!), but the knowledge and information required to design, write specs for, and implement new technology within the enterprise no longer exists in that small set of IT warriors in the data center; the change of pace is too rapid.
Naomi Eide, senior editor for CIO Dive, recognizes that the unicorn employee who can do it all simply doesn’t exist and companies have to find a less rigid, more agile way to solve the challenge of filling the gap. “In tech, how work gets done upstages who does it,” Eide shares, and finds -- with no surprise -- that the top enterprises push automation to allow for innovation as a key measure of unleashing the talent they already have outside of the data center.
It is a great place to start.
Take a Page Out of the Partnership Playbook
Another interesting play to address the talent gap is to design partnerships that gain access to the latest technology innovators. Walmart took this approach when going head to head with Amazon in 2017. Leveraging the power of its internal team and the Google Home as well as Google Express product lines, the Walmart and Google engineering teams joined forces to take on Alexa in the race for e-commerce dominance.
While the winner of the Walmart-Amazon race is out, and likely will be for quite a while, one thing is clear. Cross-functional, cross-organization partnerships can get the access needed to innovate in ways that IT leaders never considered in the past.
Additionally, IT leaders must look to partnerships with consultants to address the gap as well. In many cases, seasoned software development and systems engineers -- both on prem and cloud -- leave the rat race of the tech giants to leverage their skills and abilities in the consultant world. Companies like LaSai Technologies (driven by Anil Reddy, former head of Microsoft’s data center strategy and cloud capacity acquisition) and Insight (where Claire Saddington, former senior cloud infrastructure solution specialist landed), have the chops to fill enterprise IT innovation without forcing the enterprise to pay Amazon, Google, or Microsoft bonuses and wages.
Engage and Lean In
Finally, stop alienating top talent through impersonal applicant tracking systems and low-level recruiting processes that often reject qualified (sometimes extremely well-qualified) individuals and frustrate potential recruits.
From finding non-traditionally educated employees to uncovering that coding engineer who has spent the last four years in Sales or Procurement, IT leaders must lean heavily into the recruiting process with human resources rather than sit on the sidelines waiting for the bench to fill.
In the end, with an estimated 1.4 million software development jobs scheduled to be unfilled by 2020, it is clear that it will take creativity and leadership in the IT C-suite to address the talent gap within the enterprise and drive the innovation necessary to compete in the marketplace. Otherwise, the enterprise IT department is simply waving the white flag of surrender.