Despite the experiences of many solution providers, some suggest that there isn't a real IT skills shortage, but a lack of key talent in the right location. Regardless of whose opinion you believe, the IT community needs to do a better job of inspiring youth and other industries' displaced workers to pursue a career in high tech. With the continually rising demand for service and support technicians, developers and integrators, many companies can't onboard new hires fast enough—and it's only expected to get worse.
While the need for skilled computer and networking professionals increases, the percentage of women in the IT workforce is in decline. A number of factors may be in play here, beginning with a lack of encouragement from intermediate and post-secondary school systems. Despite all the gains they've made in other vocations, the latest statistics show a significant disparity in the number of undergraduate computer science degrees going to women compared to men—just 18 percent in 2009. And, when you consider that 57 percent of those receiving a bachelor's degree that year were of the female persuasion, it's a sure sign of problems ahead.
The high point for female employment in the IT industry was all the way back in 1991, when they made up 36 percent of the workforce. By 2009, that number had dropped to approximately 25 percent, according to the same study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the downward trend shows no signs of stopping. This contrasts significantly with the overall U.S. workforce, which currently enjoys the highest participation level of women ever.
That downward spiral should be troubling for everyone in the IT industry, including men. A diverse workforce contributes to business productivity, creativity and employee loyalty, and according to a number of reputable personnel studies, allows organizations to better address the needs of their customers. When companies employ a cross section of people with varied genders and ethnicities, idea generation and market opportunities generally multiply. Without that diversity, the IT channel may lose the edge it has enjoyed for so many years.
An Advocate for the IT Industry
CompTIA Breakaway attendees flocked to an early morning meeting in support of the Advancing Women in IT Community.
In order to address the gender challenges, a number of CompTIA members championed the foundation of a new peer group earlier this year. The Advancing Women in IT Community (AWIT) is committed to empowering women with the knowledge and skills needed to help them build successful IT careers. Under the leadership of chair Sandy Ashworth and vice-chair Jean Mork Bredenson, the group already has received broad industry support, readily noted by the standing-room only audience at their early morning meeting at Breakaway this month. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of its founding members, the community membership is growing quickly with a diverse collection of IT professionals (including men). As an attendee of the Breakaway meeting, I can attest to the energy and ideas being generated by the group, each focused on ways to create greater diversity in IT workforce.
AWIT's mission is to serve as a vital information resource, provide mentorship and create networking opportunities for its members, and inspire the next generation of IT professionals and leaders. In a similar format as other CompTIA communities, the group will create and develop initiatives that allow them to accomplish their many goals. Awareness and educational programs are the basis of their initial activities, with members also engaged in promoting legislation that expands the IT industry opportunities for women.
The AWIT team already is capitalizing on their members' enthusiasm, launching a mentoring program for those interested in pursuing a career in computer technologies. Through the CompTIA Advancing Women in IT webpage, visitors can learn about the vocational opportunities available in IT industry, access a variety of educational resources and request a mentor to help them better navigate a career path. Those interested in volunteering their time also can register so that CompTIA can match them with the appropriate program applicants.
The community also created and recently introduced a new video that highlights the reasons women should pursue a career in IT, no matter their age or background. With great advice for those interested in joining the industry and words of encouragement from several successful industry leaders, the video is a great tool to share with students and adults who are searching for a rewarding profession. While the video is produced by AWIT, the message is appropriate for both men and women. In the end, the group's efforts will bolster career opportunities for everyone.
Brian Sherman is founder of Tech Success Communications, specializing in editorial content and consulting for the IT channel. His previous roles include chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and industry alliances director with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com.