Zero One: What Tech Talent Shortage?
The virtual pages of the Zero One blog have been awash with scary stories about a wasteland of tech talent and, as a result, failed digital transformation projects. But is this real?
A Forrester research note released this month contends that fears about a tech talent crisis are overblown. While competition for certain tech talent is tight, the situation remains manageable, say Forrester analysts Andrew Bartels and Nate Meneer.
The analysts cite the current state of tech wages, which have increased only slightly above the national average. If there was huge demand for a small pool of talent, then this would have driven up wages. A recent tech salary survey conducted by Informa, publisher of this site, also found stagnant wages.
The ranks of tech workers are growing, too. By next year, there will be 4.5 million tech workers, practically matching the number of jobs. Forrester says that the number of college students graduating with degrees in computer science has grown faster than the number of new tech jobs.
Forrester’s conclusions seemingly fly in the face of conventional wisdom. In the post “Zero One: Without Bedrock Talent, Digital Transformation Craters,” I cited reports from Capgemini Consulting, McKinsey & Company, MIT Sloan Management, Robert Half Technology, and even Forrester itself that portray a serious tech talent shortage.
For instance, a Forrester survey of CIOs found that 65 percent said a skills shortage is holding them back, up significantly from last year.
“Anecdotally, many CIOs that we talk to say they worry about finding the right tech talent,” said Bartels and Meneer in the research note. “Tech vendors are even more vocal in promoting the notion of a talent shortage, which has become tied to Silicon Valley’s campaign to advance computer-related skills within the U.S. education system.”
So what’s the real story?
The truth lies somewhere in the middle: There’s indeed a tech skills shortage but only in specialized roles and rural areas.
Among specialized roles, there’s high demand for security pros, data scientists, application developers, Internet of Things architects, and experts in cloud computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, business intelligence, and marketing tech.
CIOs in rural areas of the country also reel from a general talent shortage. Their perception is shaped by the simple fact that tech workers don’t want to work and live where these companies are based.
As stated earlier, there are enough tech workers to fill the job openings, but this doesn’t mean they’re equally distributed around the country as needed. Among states that have a hard time attracting tech talent are North Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Connecticut, Alaska, New Mexico, Washington, Montana, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.
“Software developers, millennials in particular, want to congregate, flock to certain cities. They want to go to the coast,” said Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond in a podcast in August. “This issue of local demand vs. local supply once again rears its ugly head.”
CIOs who find themselves in one of these tech talent shortages, either trying to fill a specialized role or overcoming a rural reputation or both, have to open their wallets and get creative in recruiting.
Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe spoke at RSA Conference 2017 in San Francisco with the clear intention of recruiting security pros to his state. He said Virginia has 36,000 cybersecurity job openings with a starting salary of $88,000.
Then he offered what tech workers covet the most: free knowledge.
“You work for the state a couple of years, I’ll pay for your education,” McAuliffe said.
Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is based in Silicon Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.