Free Agent Nation: Solutions For IT Work World Acceleration

As technology accelerates, the IT workforce contributes to two divergent skills sets: content operations and “tactical” IT systems development on one hand, and long-term strategic planning and execution on the other. The former skills are relatively easy to find or develop, in some cases in less than two years; the later skills take seven or more years to develop to the level of contributing new core knowledge without which an enterprise may fail. Growing market valuation of IT knowledge is an irreversible trend. But who are the new IT workers?

The IT Workers

Because IT knowledge-skill needs are growing so fast and resist convenient job categorization, the problem cannot be calibrated credibly. Defining and quantifying workforce segments was simple until the ‘70’s. Today the government’s classifications such as its SOCs (Standard Occupational Classifications) and SICs (Standard Industrial Classifications) are 30 years out of date. With many vulnerable organizations experiencing turnovers, vacancy rates of up to 50 percent and wage structures growing 14 percent per year in IT-related work, larger variations in work descriptions complicate matters still further. Market dynamics change the job-classifications structures faster than bureaucracies have, so far, been able to measure them. The Independent IT professional is being ignored- the obsolete classification schemes cannot either recognize or measure their existence or contributions. For example, self-employed IT workers and small IT consulting companies are not counted or worse, are counted as job openings.

Coming: The Free-Agent Nation

Driven by workplaces realities, the overall independent workforce will number around 25 million by 2015. A significant proportion will be IT workers. The IT workforce is moving ahead in at least three areas: core IT staffs remain the knowledge-skill backbone of enterprises; but in the contingent area tactical IT workers will fill short-term, easily specified IT needs; advanced skill IT consultants will create strategic, next generation IT plans and systems. Enterprise management wants to contain costs in all these categories, but it is not happening, nor will it happen soon. Independent IT professionals understand the supply-demand algorithm. For them, free agency is logical. Based on continuing analysis of the independent IT workforce, we have measured the realities of the IT labor shortage, the rewards system and the accompanying workforce migration to independent status. Typically, the higher the skill and education level of IT professionals, the more likely they are to seek independence. Without government intervention, which will not work, they are acquiring their own skills, and creating their own careers. They are reward motivated, but quality of life is as important as money to them.

Potential Solutions in an accelerating IT work world

Government can help change the image of the technology worker, in part of providing better metrics and providing educational motivation. Educational initiatives, specified now, will eventually prime the pump and fill the labor pipeline with computer-literate workers and with the needed professionals with advanced sills based in computer sciences. But it cannot happen fast enough to address today’s need, which is driving turnover and wages. When the Industrial Revolution took 96 percent of workers from the fields, they acquired factory and office skills – over 250 years. The current paradigm shift in the IT workforce will take 1/20 the time. Accelerating technology, with a half-life of 12-18 months or less confounds an educational process that takes 4-7 years to produce contributors with advanced strategic skills. Market forces are already correcting the labor-cost issue. Business leaders must recognize that advanced, IT-based skill and knowledge can come only from an existing workforce for the immediate future. New workforce strategies must incorporate core employees, reward flex workers and establish new relationships with knowledge workers. These new relationships must include variable pay, pay for knowledge, training contracts, and knowledge-development rewards. In other words, a real strategy to retain a company’s “Intellectual Capital.” The work environment, led by the contingent IT workforce, is being transformed. Intellectual capital is becoming the critical contribution, especially at the “specialist or advanced-skill” level. Where a single strategic-skills worker can contribute $20 million in equity “value” to an enterprise in a single year, it is natural to expect his or her value to rise. IT workers, contributing intellectually, will implicitly hold the keys to enterprise effectiveness, productivity, competitiveness and therefore survival. What’s happening in the IT workforce is an indication of what will happen in the overall economy in the next 5-10 years.

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