by Alessia Leibert
The newest survey from Minnesota’s Labor Market Information Office explores hiring difficulties through in-depth interviews with employers about their experience filling (or not filling) recently open positions. The most recent findings track Information Technology (IT) occupations, including software developers and computer support specialists.
Hiring difficulties impacted 37 percent of vacancies in IT occupations. The reasons for the difficulties were fairly equally split between those due exclusively to skills deficiencies (37 percent); those due exclusively to unattractive demand or other factors (32 percent); and those due to a mix of skills deficiencies and unattractive demand (31 percent).
IT employers stated that the main supply-side problem was work experience and—importantly—the skills obtained through that experience. The tendency to set very stringent qualification requirements in the IT field is mainly the result of rapid technological changes and the proliferation of technological platforms that, once adopted by a firm, must be maintained by professionals with hyper-specialized knowledge or experience (Java versus .NET, for example).
As new IT graduates learn the most advanced technologies, and seasoned employees trained in “niche” technologies start to retire, employers face the problem of maintaining legacy systems that new graduates may not have learned, or may not be interested in working with compared to newer technological platforms. However, sometimes employers can deliberately set very stringent qualification requirements because the candidate pool is large enough for them to be particular.
While formal education is often preferred, it is not generally considered absolutely necessary in IT. Fourteen percent of IT vacancies included in the survey did not require any formal education at all. Often, specific skill sets and previous work experience were much more important to the employer than the degree of formal credentials. The most common degrees employers preferred were Computer Science or Management Information Systems.
Where other issues besides skills mismatches were indicated as a challenge, the primary ones were non-competitive wages, low mobility of the workforce, and lack of interest in the nature of the work. Strategies such as making IT workplaces more attractive to women, creating incentives for seasoned employees to stay with the firm, and producing career information that advises candidates on in-demand skill sets could be effective ways of addressing some of these problems.