As business increases for information technology and computer-based companies across West Michigan and nationally, the high-tech industry is struggling to find qualified and skilled professionals to meet the job openings they have immediately available.
That’s led to some curious challenges borne out in data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the national unemployment rate hovers around an average of 7.9 percent, the average unemployment rate for combined computer and IT positions is around 6 percent.
For some positions, the unemployment rate is even lower: 0.9 percent for computer and information research scientists, 1.7 percent for network and computer systems administrators and 1.8 percent for chief executives.
Beth DeWilde, principal/CRO for Paragon Recruiting, a technical recruiting firm in West Michigan, said the demand for IT professionals is so high that business are struggling to find qualified employees.
“A lot of companies will see that, ‘Gosh the unemployment rate is so high, but why can’t we find any employees,’ and it just doesn’t work that way,” she said.
For the most part, the general pool of unemployed workers lacks the skills needed to fill IT positions at most companies, she said.
“The pool of (skilled, available) people is very small, meaning that many of those people are working already,” DeWilde said. “Most companies that are looking to hire technology employees, they’re looking for a certain level of experience in specific technologies, as well as a possible education and certifications.”
With the technology business still growing, DeWilde said many companies are looking for new graduates hoping to find jobs, but even that isn’t supplying a large enough workforce.
“You hope that there’s more people going to school to learn technologies, but the challenge is that it isn’t keeping up with the demand,” she said.
The lack of hirable talent has prohibited further growth within many West Michigan companies. Tamara Iakiri, talent acquisition for Open System Technologies Inc., said the shortage has affected the IT and business services firm’s workload abilities.
“Because the demand for our services continues to grow, we are always looking for additional people,” Iakiri said. “It’s one of our top priorities as an organization to find the right talent, engage them, make sure they’re up to speed, so we can continue to grow our business.
“If we don’t have the people, we can’t do the projects.”
John Hey, chief services officer at Trivalent Group, said the growing Grandville-based IT firm hasn’t been able to keep up with hiring as the business continues to expand.
“It’s taken longer to hire good people, and when you need to hire people, it’s either from growth or from retention,” he said. “If you can’t fill those positions, you’re putting more burden on the people you do have. That’s an unfair burden to put on them, and it creates induced stress and strain and pressure to keep that business growing and successful. But you’re trying to do too much with too few people.”
Even when candidates are found, it takes longer to properly train them, Hey said.
“There was a day in years gone by, that we could hire someone fairly quickly,” he said. “Well now, between the process of finding good candidates and having to spend more time qualifying them (and) making sure they’re good candidates, now it might take us two to three months or longer — and in some cases much longer — to find a good person. And all that time, you still need that person.”
According to a survey by Paragon Recruiting of more than 500 senior IT managers, in the summer and fall 2012 hiring season, 61 percent said they were looking to increase IT staff and 30 percent said pay rates were likely to increase.
DeWilde said pay rates have been an issue with many businesses, as the talent options are so few. Some highly skilled professionals are valued at such a high pay rate, businesses can’t afford to hire them and have to choose between talent and money, she said.
“A lot of companies hope that they can get people at the rates that they would expect,” DeWilde said. “And some are willing to be flexible … to determine what’s more important, (staying) within a monetary expectation, or is it more important to keep within a personal characteristic, skill set and those types of expectations.”
As the technology continues to expand, the demand will, too. Trivalent’s Hey said he doesn’t see the supply and demand imbalance leveling out anytime soon.
“The need is going to be present for sometime,” he said. “It’s going to take a while for talent to grow, so I think it’s going to be a fairly mid- to long-term trend.”
Iakiri from OST said one way to help shorten that term is to have companies get involved, not only with local colleges and universities, but also at elementary, middle and high school levels to get students interested in technology at an early age.
“There’s definitely opportunities for companies, like ourselves, to partner with the schools and help new graduates be more prepared with the specifics,” Iakiri said. “So we work with our local colleges in exposing them to IT consulting career opportunities, making sure they have good internship opportunities, but we’re also doing things like working with the high schools and the elementary schools, being able to tell students what career opportunities are like and getting them excited and interested in considering IT.”
Forming tighter relationships with schools can open people up to the idea of a technology career they never would have considered, Hey said. Companies need to help tell the story that IT offers candidates a flexible career, one that’s dynamic and rapidly changing — as well as one that pays well.
“There’s a lot of advantages to being a geek,” Hey said, “and we would love to see more have that direction with their career.”