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5 IT Staffing Challenges Facing Today's CIOs

By John Reed

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In an ideal world, every IT department would be prepared, organized and ready to meet emerging business needs. Yet today’s constantly evolving economic environment means that much is in a state of flux, especially when it comes to IT staffing issues. Even companies that are expanding may still be faced with limited IT staff or budgets, complicating matters. Following are five of the most common staffing challenges facing technology executives today and some strategies for overcoming them:

1. Under staffing - In a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of CIOs said under staffing in their firm’s IT department interferes at least somewhat with their ability to implement innovative or emerging technologies. Many companies that cut employee ranks during the recession are finding themselves unable to respond quickly to changes as business conditions improve.

2. Moving into growth mode - It may seem that good news shouldn’t present a challenge, but that isn’t always the case. For many CIOs, shifting into growth mode can be difficult in part because employees may need to change their mindsets from one of caution to one of optimism. It can take some work on the part of technology leaders to help staff make the transition, particularly if the downturn was especially rough on the team.

When new initiatives are launched, CIOs should explain how the project will help the company as a whole to help build excitement. Managers also should include employees in the planning process and keep them updated on key business developments that will shape demands. The more staff understand what’s ahead, the easier the adjustment will be, and the more excited they will be about it.

3. Managing workloads - Helping employees meet objectives and keep up with performance expectations is another key challenge today. Workloads remain high at many organizations, so the introduction of new projects may bring resistance from staff.

By ensuring workloads are manageable and reassigning or removing items from individual to-do lists, you can help gain support for higher priority initiatives. Also solicit employee input on ways to streamline processes or procedures, which can help free up time in your group for additional assignments.

4. Keeping staff skills current - Training is important in just about every field, but it’s all the more so in IT, where technology changes at a rapid pace. If your employees’ knowledge is outdated, your firm is at a competitive disadvantage.

If you’re faced with tight budgets, there are still ways to invest in professional education that won’t break the bank. For starters, investigate programs through IT associations. Many offer discounted rates on seminars and courses. Also, consider sending one employee to a conference or class and then having that person share his or her newly acquired knowledge with others on the team.

Circulating technology magazines within the group is another inexpensive way for staff to stay on top of trends. Helping to keep skills sharp not only benefits your department in terms of intellectual capital, but it can be highly motivating to employees to know their firm supports their growth.

5. Retention - It likely has been a while since retention was a key challenge, but it’s an emerging priority for executives. In a survey by our company, one-third (34 percent) of CIOs said they’re worried about losing top performers to other job opportunities in the next year. As the economy gains momentum, the risk of employees leaving grows significantly.

So, do what you can now to become the employer of choice. Steps outlined above such as staffing appropriately, managing workloads and investing in training can go a long way in boosting motivation. Also take the time to thank employees who put in the extra effort, even if it’s just through verbal praise or a personal note. Retention strategies don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful and effective.

John Reed is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. For additional career advice, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalftech.