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Career Outlook :Tech Talent Shortage On Way

Tech Talent Shortage On Way

Published on: 09/20/05

High-tech talent may soon be in short supply again.

The buzz at the Society for Information Management symposium in Boston last week was about the challenges employers are facing in recruiting and retaining technology workers. With the economy picking up, baby boomer techies getting set to retire, and college graduates flocking to other fields, these challenges are about to get tougher.

"You're going to have a problem getting people," said Leslie D. Ball, a senior professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "We've had a rapid decline in our MIS [management information systems] majors because of the dot-com bust, because of outsourcing, because kids no longer think they're going to be making millions of dollars in technology."

Finding and keeping workers hasn't been this high on the agenda for most businesses since the boom days of the 1990s, when high-tech jobs were so plentiful in such cities as Boston or San Francisco that employees could switch companies without switching carpools.

But the new hunt for talent is driven only partly by increased opportunity. Many businesses have returned to growth and profitability, though at modest rates, and have resumed hiring. Yet they are bumping into a demographic reality: Information technology departments stand to lose 25 percent of their employees to retirement over the next five years, estimated M. Lewis Temares, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Miami.

"The new people who come in are technically proficient but don't understand business, how companies actually work," he lamented.

As technology veterans leave the work force, there will be fewer entry-level workers to take their place. And among the smaller pool of college graduates, many of those with smarts and drive are attracted to other fields, from life sciences to commercial real estate. High technology today lacks the cachet it enjoyed in the 1990s.

One of the first to sound the alarm was Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, who visited Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year as part of a five-college national tour aimed at luring more students into careers in computer science. (Gates was so eager to begin his own computer science career 30 years ago that he dropped out of Harvard.)

At last week's Boston symposium, Microsoft representatives were working on an initiative with businesses and such universities as Northeastern to ensure a continued pipeline of talented technology employees. Part of their efforts will be directed at rebutting the impression that technology work is moving abroad, said Michael G. Maas, the Microsoft general manager for enterprise and industry marketing.

"Students feel like they've already missed the opportunities of the computer world, and they haven't," Maas said.


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