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CIOs Pursue New Ways to Fill Critical Tech Roles as Market Slows

The pandemic may be over, but its legacy continues to affect hiring and retention.
Suman Bhattacharyya
Contributing Writer
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It might be an employers’ market, but companies are finding it difficult to fill talent gaps for critical technology roles, executives said at a recent CIO Professional Network roundtable.

Recent economic indicators suggest hiring activity in the tech sector is slowing. Though tech unemployment was 2.2% in September, they dropped 2,632 jobs and tech occupations across all sectors fell by 20,000, according to CompTIA analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data published earlier this month.

Lower salary expectations

Salary expectations, which soared during the pandemic, are trending downward. Muthu Balu, senior vice president of information technology at True Religion Brand Jeans, said salaries were down about 10%.  Companies might be willing to pay more for ‘star talent,’ but CIOs might be pressed harder to justify these moves.

“You want someone with a proven track record, or at least skills that can be projected onto that new role,” said Stephen Greco, CIO at Vertican Technologies. 

Finding the right ‘fit’

JT Armstrong, CISO at Plan Group, reported that a higher number of applicants means it may be difficult to pay within existing budgets, especially if candidates’ expectations haven’t evolved from inflated salary figures during the pandemic.

With remote work and simple online applications, companies facing a high volume of applications might need third-party agency assistance to review credentials and vet candidates, many participants said. HR managers may also need to put a closer eye on applications and cover letters developed with the assistance of generative AI, they noted.

“Finding the signal from the noise is really difficult,” said Rusty Everhart, a former vice president of IT at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina, who remarked that a single position can attract as many as 2,000 applications. 

Among working-level hires, many pointed to the need for strong data skills, especially as organizations transform, digitize, and pursue cloud migrations. Data and AI figured prominently among anticipatory skills needed after companies build longer-term strategies.

“We’re starting to understand where we need to be,” on data, suggested Greco. “We have to figure out how we’re going to monetize that and the business part of it, and then after that, we’ll go back to the actual skill sets.”

For senior roles, finding a balance between technical and soft skills is still a challenge, said Amy Shillingford, head of IT at Spark Therapeutics.

Remote and hybrid work considerations

Remote work might have taken hold during the pandemic, but many companies are returning to some form of in-office work. One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic period was the ability to hire across geographies, but some firms see value in bringing employees back to the office. 

“Remote opens up a lot of doors because you can get people from anywhere, but it comes with greater risk, especially for people that don’t have a lot of career [experience] built in,” said Greco. “The mentoring, collaboration, the social cues you get in the coffee room — all that can’t happen for people just starting out.”

Regardless of where companies position themselves, younger employees’ priorities need to be considered, said Shillingford. 

“They demand a better work-life balance, and they’ll leave and go where they can get it,” she said. “The money, while it continues to be important, is not their primary factor.”

A key obstacle to implementing hybrid work is figuring out what proportion of travel and accommodation costs should be covered by employees. While some firms do not cover travel expenses, pre-tax commuter benefits programs can help offset employee costs, participants said. Others pointed to covering travel costs only when employees in remote-designated positions must travel.

“A minority of our organization is considered full-time remote, and we have some level of travel expectation for them, and we’ll cover a certain amount of costs for that,” said Shillingford. “For anybody that’s hybrid, we have the commuter expense program.”

De-risking the hiring process

Micro-internships, or short-term paid assignments for prospective hires, could be a less costly way to vet new talent, said Pam Knott, vice president of data and technology at the ALS Association.

“It’s where you have a very small project, let’s say 10 to 40 hours. After that project is over, there’s no long-term commitment, but you build a relationship,” she said. “You might get to know some potential candidates for future entry-level positions.”

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