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Is cross-promoting non-IT employees the solution to the current IT talent crisis?

The problem was brewing even before the pandemic began. But the rapid shift to remote work, coupled with the rush to move business processes on the cloud, has only intensified the struggle to obtain IT talent. Today, both Australia and New Zealand suffer from an ever-widening IT skills gap, with 64% of employers fearing this shortage’s effects on efficiency and post-pandemic recovery. 

With IT worker pools evaporating across the world, it’s high time organisations looked elsewhere—such as within. Here’s an idea: train and cross-promote promising non-IT employees into vacant IT positions. You’re already investing in upskilling brilliant IT workers into senior roles. So why not replicate that for non-technical employees? Why not tap into the wellspring of potential talent sitting there within your organisation?

Two strong cases for hiring from within

Hiring costs are a strong reason to consider this approach. Lockdowns continue to restrict cross-border hiring and movement, bringing local demand—and the hiring costs—for ever-diminishing IT skills to all-time highs. Before the pandemic, the costs of replacing an employee was over 6 to 9 months of his salary. Since the average Australian IT worker earns $60,000 annually, employers have to fork out anywhere between $30,000 to $40,000 just to replace or fill a vacant IT position. 

And the figure only balloons the longer this shortage goes on. But if this isn’t a good enough reason, consider the boost to morale and productivity it would bring. The shift to supporting a remote workforce has inadvertently exposed non-technical staff to the need to manage and troubleshoot various technologies or services. Perhaps Susan in finance has taken to the intricacies of network management, or John in marketing has rediscovered his interest in UI/UX after struggling with unintuitive software?

Allowing these employees to act on their newfound passion isn’t just a cost-effective alternative to external hiring—it also brings fresh energy into the IT team. Of course, this approach makes sense only if you’re cross-promoting employees from a position that’s cheaper and easier to replace. And it’s only sustainable once you’ve created a flexible, scalable and well-funded mentorship program to nurture budding IT talent.

Strong IT teams weren’t built in a day

Certain readers might be thinking, isn’t training non-technical employees to perform highly complex IT roles time-consuming and resource-intensive? Not if you consider the indirect costs associated with external hires. Onboarding new talent still requires significant chunks of time, people, and energy—and there is always the risk they would leave mid-way for a better offer, flushing months of effort down the drain.

In contrast, the investment needed to train and hire an established—and loyal—employee is much more palatable. To simplify things, it’s far easier to teach people technical skills than to win them over to your organisation’s vision and cause. Compared to external onboarding, all you need for internal hiring efforts is a simple structure for training and mentorship, dedicated funding and resources, and a whole lot of patience:

Mentorship Structures: Besides training, your volunteer mentors should also be willing to spend time listening and advising your future cohort of IT workers. Picking up programming or learning the intricacies of the network is hard work and having someone who empathises with your struggle is critical to the learning process.

Flexible Learning Styles: Just like any upskilling program, your soon-to-be IT workers will benefit from a broad variety of learning styles. Some prefer self-paced learning, some prefer in-class experience, while some want to be hands-on and learn from practical experience. Work with your IT team and see which you can accommodate.

Committed Resources: This applies to all parties. Employees are risking everything to embark on a new career path—and will be looking to the organisation for support. Busy IT teams are investing precious personnel and time for additional personnel in the future. 

Both will be looking to your organisation for proof of support, resources, and funding. This could mean establishing new reporting hierarchies, career tracks, KPIs, and compensation structures for internally hired employees. It might mean adjusting deadlines and project scopes to allow key IT personnel more time for mentorship—or ramping up upskilling so more experience IT workers can be promoted into new challenges and technologies. At the same time, their positions are filled with your newly minted IT talent. 

As always, a hybrid approach is best  

 I’m not so foolish to say organisations stop external hiring altogether—that’s still critical when sourcing IT talent with specialised or advanced skillsets. But internal hiring, or cross-promoting, should be considered in parallel with external hiring efforts right now and years after the pandemic. Denying employees the chance to explore their passion in IT could cost you money and potential IT talent. Giving them a chance would only lead to greater loyalty, progress, and a leg up in these difficult and highly competitive times.  

Read more: Why is IT training important no matter what your field

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Leon Adato

Leon Adato

Leon Adato is Head Geek™, SolarWinds. Leon’s 30 years of network and systems management and monitoring experience spans the financial, healthcare, food and beverage, and other industries, with 20 years focused specifically on monitoring and management.

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