Good news: IT businesses see growth. Bad news: They can't find people to hire

IT companies feel confident and want to hire, but a perceived lack of suitable talent makes it tough, says a CompTIA survey

Nonprofit industry association CompTIA's quarterly IT Industry Business Confidence Index, assembled from surveys of 305 IT firms nationwide, shows IT companies enjoying increased confidence in the strength of their business. But while they want to expand, they're finding it difficult due to a lack of what they feel are properly qualified people for the jobs in question.

CompTIA opens its report by asserting that confidence in the IT industry has been on the rise since Q3 of 2009. IT companies' perceptions about the health of their industry are far outpacing perceptions of the economy overall.

Potential myopia aside, that's not an unrealistic picture. The IT industry's job outlook has, despite its own sluggishness, outpaced the rest of the economy in many ways, including overall employment rates.

At the same time, IT firms believe themselves to be understaffed and thus unable to either expand or fulfill their existing duties. One-third of the companies polled consider themselves understaffed, and 42 percent feel they need to hire as part of a plan to expand.

Feeling understaffed, half of all IT companies in the CompTIA survey have job openings, including 75 percent of medium and large firms waiting to hire. About half (48 percent) of all the positions needed across all companies are some variety of IT support or service personnel. App developers (39 percent), cloud expertise (33 percent), network engineers (29 percent), and security expertise (28 percent) also enjoyed high demand -- and square with research conducted outside of CompTIA's surveyed groups.

The time it takes to fill those positions is also noticeably higher than the national average: 23 business days on average in 2013. For tech jobs, the average time to fill one of those positions varies between less than two months (28 percent) and two to three months (34 percent). One possible reason: Employers' perception that it's tough to find the right people. The CompTIA survey notes that the majority of companies described recruiting technical hires as "challenging" (a 4 out of 5 difficulty rating). As the New York Times reported in the above-linked article, companies are becoming far choosier as a way to screen out applicants with stale skills.

The most common tactic for dealing with such labor shortages in the face of slow hiring is to have people put in more hours, resulting in what others have called the always-on mentality of modern IT. Another common tactic is to hire temp workers, which has resulted in an exceptionally lucrative market for such labor, according to Dice.com.

Given the increased selectivity involved in hiring, the best way to get a jump on those coveted IT jobs is to either know someone already in the company or track the company's job postings aggressively. The vast majority of hires come in that way; 68 percent of polled companies claimed both methods as a factor. One interpretation of those results is that they provide a degree of personalized prescreening that a cold-calling applicant for the same job wouldn't have. Job boards like Dice and social networks like LinkedIn aren't bad sources either (61 percent and 58 percent, respectively), but forget about job fairs or the like; they fill a paltry 30 percent of positions.

One big takeaway from all this is how tech skills themselves remain only part of the picture when it comes to IT jobs. Such skills are central, and they remain a strong draw, but landing a tech job requires social as well as technical finesse -- a skill set not ever likely to go out of demand.

This story, "Good news: IT businesses see growth. Bad news: They can't find people to hire," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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