IT Shortage Carries a High Price, Study Concludes

While the shortage of developers and analysts is well documented, a nationwide shortage of IT service and support staff- those responsible for maintaining hardware, software, networks and help desks-is also hampering IT initiatives and may be costing U.S. organizations up to $4.5 billion a year in reduced productivity and reducing the entire economy by $105.5 billion annually.

These are the findings of a recent study released by CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association (Lombard, Ill.). The survey of 878 CIOs and IT executives finds that nearly 10 percent of IT service and support positions are unfilled-an estimated 268,740 positions. As a result, the U.S. economy (GDP) loses more than $100 billion in spending each year that would result from salaries and training.

"The IT service and support worker shortage is much greater than anyone anticipated and the economic impact is more substantial than anyone imagined," says Ian Bonner, VP of marketing at IBM Global Business Partners. "It is critical for our industry to take steps to fill the IT talent pool and create tools for employee career development."

Finding qualified candidates is recognized by respondents as one of the most difficult aspects of IT management. Nearly 60 percent of respondents say that finding qualified IT staff was difficult, while only 39 percent rated Y2K-related issues as difficult. Nearly one-fourth of all companies claim lost productivity because of a shortage of qualified IT service and support staff. Among the largest corporations ($1 billion or more in annual revenues), the pressure is greater-nearly 40 percent of CIOs claim lost productivity because of a shortage of qualified IT service and support staff.

"The majority of businesses today attribute missed deadlines, lost productivity and higher expenses to the nationwide shortage of qualified IT service and support professionals," says John Venator, president and CEO of CompTIA.

The survey also indicates that once individuals are hired, most need training. More than three-fourths (77 percent) of companies have to train their IT service and support staff to meet company needs and almost half (48 percent) would pay a higher salary to an individual who had already completed an industry-supported IT service and support certification program.

"In our experience, the real challenge is finding qualified IT candidates," says Lawrence Hamilton, senior VP of HR at Tech Data Corp. "Promoting careers in IT, teaching the necessary baseline skills and encouraging candidates to become certified can play a tremendous role in building a community of skilled and experienced IT professionals."

A separate survey also confirms insatiable demand for help desk technicians, Web architects and network engineers. RHI Consulting's (Menlo Park, Calif.) most recent IT staffing survey finds steady demand for these and other information technology professionals in the final months of 1999. Twenty-three percent of CIOs plan to hire additional personnel in the fourth quarter of 1999, while just 2 percent anticipate staff reductions.

"As companies expand operations and increase their technology investments, demand for the skilled professionals required to implement new IT initiatives will remain strong," says Greg Scileppi, executive director of RHI Consulting. Scileppi notes that during the same period last year, CIOs projected a similar decrease in hiring compared to the previous quarter. "In addition to seasonal patterns, the drop could be the result of a hold on new IT initiatives until after the completion of Y2K date conversion projects."

CIOs in the mid-Atlantic states forecast the most active hiring of any U.S. region during the fourth quarter-30 percent of respondents plan to add IT staff and just 2 percent expect a decline. "Continued economic growth in the mid-Atlantic region has stimulated employment, particularly within the area's financial services and investment management companies," says Scileppi. "Business services and construction firms are driving IT hiring in Pennsylvania and New Jersey."

Firms in the Pacific states also expect robust hiring during the fourth quarter, according to technology executives surveyed. CIOs project a net 27 percent increase in staffing activity. "In California, rapid expansion in the software and computer services industries is increasing demand for skilled IT talent," Scileppi notes. "Businesses in Washington and Oregon cite demand within the high-technology manufacturing and trade industries as companies there increase investment in information systems infrastructures."

IT Hiring: By Industry

PercentageIncrease/Decrease/No Change/Don't Know/Total
United States232732100
Prof. Services212761100
Fin. Ins./Real Estate341578100
Business Services231760100