The few and the stressed

Against the backdrop of a murky and confusing economic picture, many CIOs responding to our “2004 Mid-Year IT Staffing Update” said they don’t have enough employees to do the job, and that the employees they do have are (not surprisingly) experiencing rising levels of stress.

Approximately 63 per cent of the 231 IT executives surveyed in July reported that they are having to do more with fewer people. And layoffs are still taking place: Almost one-quarter of our respondents said they had to jettison staff in the first half of 2004.

At the same time, 72 per cent of our respondents described their staffs as suffering from either high or very high levels of stress. This is up eight per cent from the last time CIO quizzed IT executives on this hot-button topic, in January 2003.

The top three staffing concerns of CIOs — demanding workloads, retaining the right mix of skills on staff, and low morale — were essentially the same as they were in the survey conducted in July 2003. The only worry that dropped significantly was the problem of insufficient funding for training, a concern for 40 per cent of our CIOs in July 2003. Now only 22 per cent of the IT executives surveyed cited finding money for training as a problem.

The financial incentives that were popular a few years ago — such as stock options and retention and hiring bonuses — have not crept back into use, due to the uncertain economic climate. Instead, CIOs reported relying to a large degree on nonfinancial motivators such as flexible working time for staffers and employee recognition programs. The practice of using IT training as a motivator, a mainstay for many CIOs in the past, dipped to 57 per cent in July 2004 (from 66 per cent the year before) but remained one of the most popular ways to keep the troops happy when raises are scarce.

To make the most of the staffing hand they have been dealt, 65 per cent of CIOs reported using “cross-training” — the practice of training workers to perform other functions in addition to their primary role so that workers can be switched between jobs — as a tactic to plug human resource gaps, as well as “selective outsourcing” (50 per cent).

As CIOs seek to better align information technology with the business, IT executives in recent years have confronted the challenge of finding people with a variety of non-technical, business-oriented skills. CIOs said that project management is the most desired nontechnical skill right now (63 per cent), but an equally high number (62 per cent) considered finding staffers with good communication skills just as important. Also in high demand were workers with analytical skills (60 per cent).

In lieu of hiring people with these skills, 67 per cent of IT executives said they were employing coaches to train their current staff. Fifty-three per cent of our respondents were providing in-house training, and 38 per cent were paying for outside parties to handle the education duties.

As for the technical skills CIOs need most, 58 per cent said they needed application development workers. Not surprisingly, the demand for employees with security skills has steadily risen since July 2003. Finally, the need for those who can do open-source development more than doubled, from five per cent in July 2003 to 11 per cent this year.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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