business skills

The IT Talent Problem

Business-savvy IT executives can be hard to come by, and that’s a big problem if your company relies on technology to exist (it does). Maybe it’s time to start growing your own.

Two weeks ago, I asked the IT executive readership of my weekly newsletter, The Heller Report, to answer the question: If you had a magic wand, what one talent problem would you solve? Responses poured in and addressed challenges around recruiting, developing leaders, and retaining the talent that they currently have. But more than 70 percent of readers would use their magic wand to do only one thing: give business skills to their technologists. Their people, they worry, are so narrowly focused on the technology that they fail to see the forest through the trees. They do not understand the business context of their technology work, nor can they have a meaningful discussion with the leaders of the business areas their technology supports.

This lack of business-savvy technology talent is a serious problem for every company that relies on technology to exist (which is, of course, every company). Those beautifully “blended executives,” who can talk technology in one meeting and can talk business in another, are rare birds. Yet with technology moving directly into the revenue stream of your company, you need them, and your need is only going to increase.

STEM degrees

Every year U.S. schools grant more STEM degrees than there are available jobs. When you factor in H-1B visa holders, existing STEM degree holders, and the like, it’s hard to make a case that there’s a STEM labor shortage.” Even in the IT industry, which employs the most tech workers and is expected to experience the most growth over the next decade, not everyone who wants a job can find one. Anecdotal evidence, the article points out, is piled high on the side of there being a glut instead of a shortage. “If there was really a STEM labor market crisis, you’d be seeing very different behaviors from companies,” Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York state told IEEE Spectrum. “You wouldn’t see companies cutting their retirement contributions, or hiring new workers and giving them worse benefits packages. Instead you would see signing bonuses, you’d see wage increases. You would see these companies really training their incumbent workers.” In a related opinion piece, “Is a Career in STEM Really for Me?” an 8th grader ponders her options, and finds science and engineering far down on the list.