This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 21 Number 4 1998. The copyright is shared by EDUCAUSE and the author. See for additional copyright information.

IT Staff Shortage: A Crisis That Calls for Collaboration
by Susan Jurow and Brian L. Hawkins

Susan Jurow, executive director of the College and University Personnel Association, and Brian L. Hawkins, president of EDUCAUSE, team up in this article to share their views about the information technology staff shortage. They encourage collaboration between human resource and information technology professionals on our campuses, as well as at the association level, and explain some of the activities that are on the drawing boards for CUPA and EDUCAUSE to pursue in the future.

Colleges and universities face the same serious problem in the recruitment and retention of information technology (IT) professionals as do other sectors of the economy. The gap between available positions and staff to fill them continues to grow as computers become ubiquitous on our campuses and elsewhere. The need for IT expertise is as great in hospitals, automobile manufacturing plants, and grocery stores as it is in IT firms such as Microsoft, Intel, and IBM. The United States simply is not producing enough trained professionals to fill the demand. This problem is exacerbated by our failure to more aggressively deal with it.

In the higher education community, whose problem is the recruitment and retention of IT staff? In the past, we might have argued that the problem belonged to the IT department. We might have viewed that department as the party responsible for locating more applicants, finding ways of holding on to staff, or making do with fewer bodies. But because the lack of IT staff can delay or result in the cancellation of critical campus projects, the problem today is viewed as a systemic one. And nothing has highlighted the problem more than the current struggle to deal with the Y2K (year 2000) crisis. This crisis may be viewed as a temporary stress point, but it suggests just how ill-prepared our campuses are to confront serious computer problems with adequate numbers of well-trained staff.

There may have been a time when the skills of IT personnel in the academic arena were so specialized and unique that they were not particularly saleable in the broader marketplace, but that is no longer the case. Finding and keeping qualified IT professionals is increasingly a challenge for our colleges and universities. When campuses do attract people to IT positions, they often are required to pay these individuals salaries that are substantially higher than those paid to current staff. As a result, salary compression and, ultimately, equity issues arise, and IT staff with marketable skills leave for greener pastures, creating a vicious circle.

Collaboration is one avenue for effectively confronting the IT staffing challenge. EDUCAUSE and the College and University Personnel Association (CUPA) have sought each other out to leverage their respective resources in helping colleges and universities to meet this challenge. EDUCAUSE brings to the table knowledge of the extent of the problem and of the needs of the players, as well as the means to create solutions at the local level. CUPA brings to the table knowledge of recruitment techniques, compensation principles, and human resource (HR) management principles, as well as the means to develop systems tailored to higher education institutions.

Cooperation between our two organizations began last December at the 1997 CAUSE conference. A focus group of IT and HR professionals began their discussions by agreeing that there was, indeed, a problem. They then identified challenges in four areas: recruitment, retention, retraining, and restructuring. The group shared ideas for possible strategies to meet these challenges.

At CAUSE98 in December, EDUCAUSE will host a half-day seminar on some general approaches to the IT staffing problem as well as a presentation of a successful compensation strategy deployed at one university. In addition, a "working group" made up of senior administrators, IT directors, HR administrators, and HR managers who work within IT organizations will discuss some of the ways that EDUCAUSE and CUPA might help our members more effectively deal with the IT staffing problem. These ways include

Collaboration is at the heart of leadership practice in the 21st century. Just look at the titles on the management bookshelves in the library or bookstore: Intelligent Business Alliances, Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration, The Connective Edge: Leading in an Interdependent World. To be successful at collaborations, we have to manage both the short- and long-term aspects of the relationship. We need to articulate our joint concerns, identify our common goals, and build mechanisms to address the issues, which are best advanced by dialogue between our two constituencies.

Higher education institutions have been as susceptible to the formation of departmental silos as any other kind of organization. The collaboration of CUPA and EDUCAUSE presents an opportunity for the members of our organizations to operate in a more constructive mode and to model that behavior for others on our campuses. We must stretch beyond our comfortable boundaries and combine our efforts to meet the IT staffing challenge--the success of our institutions is at stake. the table of contents

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