Last week, as I handed five pesos to my bus driver in Varadero, Cuba, he pointed to the woman sitting behind him. “She takes the tickets,” he said (or what I imagined he said, since I don’t understand Spanish). The woman promptly began ripping off a ticket from her stack of pink slips, wrote a number on it, handed it to me, and collected my change.
I stood there contemplating why they needed two employees to accept one ticket. They could use a faring system, I thought. Or at least something more efficient.
As I rode around the city, I realized the problem was much bigger than just a faring system – it was a technology problem in general. Finding a WiFi connection was like buying drugs: in the corner of town, with the seller looking up and down the street to see if anyone was looking. At the hotel, the concierge used a pen and paper to check me in – it took me a few minutes to realize that the one thing missing from this five-star resort was a computer in the front desk lobby.
I didn’t expect that by traveling 1,531 miles, I’d actually be traveling back in time. I wanted to investigate: did the locals mind this lack of technology? The ones I met didn’t know what they were missing out on. Did the infrastructure exist but they lacked professionals to implement it? I never figured it out completely.
But now, as I get back to work in our Toronto office, and as I stare at my two computer monitors, I wonder if a technology shortage could ever happen here.
The technology crisis hitting North America these days is not a lack of technology but a shortage of IT talent. In Canada alone, the Labor Market Outlook 2015-2019 Report predicts an additional 182,000 IT jobs will be needed in order to meet demands by 2019. It’s not predicted that they’ll meet this demand.
The U.S. doesn’t fare any better. Reports show that a tech talent gap exists, particularly for employees with software and programming skills, with about 1.42 tech job openings for every one job seeker.
In transit, the demand is even higher – every transit system today requires a high level of technology infrastructure just to run – if IT talent shortages begin, they’ll hit transit the hardest.
The time to address the IT talent crisis is now – and there are a few ways to fix it:
1. Retain your current workers
It’s said that “recognition is the greatest motivator” and the best way to avoid the talent crisis is to retain your current workers. IT professionals are often sheltered in their own offices, cut off from the rest of the organization. One innovative technique to show how their work impacts other departments is to hold hackathons – but instead of using it to drive new ideas, use it to show the “hacks” that other departments are working on, fostering more cohesiveness.
MARTA CIO, Sarah Ming Hsi, explained in this article, how they transformed their IT department into a more external-facing organization, instead of a siloed one.
“When I just started as CIO, we received a lot of customer complaints about our electronic signs at the stations…A group of IT engineers got together, reverse-engineered the Python code behind the signs, purchased the replacement components and parts, and even converted some of the software to use Mac. Now over 95 percent of the signs are in working order, as compared to 30 percent when I came on board,” she said.
What this story, and the other examples she shared in that article, proves is that although it’s easy to get caught up in your day-to-day work, IT departments in transit need to remember who they’re working for: their riders.
2. Tailor your work environment to your specific workers
IT innovators work differently than their operational counterparts and vice versa. A healthy transit agency has a mix of IT professionals whose unique skills diversify their department. Wondering what type of IT professional you are? This interactive quiz can help you figure it out.
3. Look inward, outward
Look at employees from other departments as potential IT superstars. You don’t have to poach but one of the best places to find IT employees is from other departments. This gives people the ability to work outside their comfort zone and show you whose skill fit within your IT team.
4. Control the day-to-day to develop for the future
It’s hard to plan for the future if you are worried about day-to-day operations. One way to keep the innovation brewing is to reduce reactive processes and work proactively. Using business intelligence or other leading technologies, you get a better sense of what might happen to proactively plan for it. You can spend less time reacting, and let employees set aside time for innovation.
Showing prospective employees that you care about letting them develop their innovative ideas at work is one of the best ways to keep IT professionals.
I never really figured out if the slow development of technology in Cuba bothered the locals. But as I walked around in pursuit of WiFi, my iPhone held high above my head searching for a signal, I realized that I, and I bet you too, could never go back to the days without technology. I hope we start to tackle the IT talent crisis so we never have to. Perhaps it starts with a little recognition for the role IT professionals play in our day-to-day lives.
This is the second piece in Trapeze Group’s IT content series. Missed part one? Check out the “Quiz: What Type of Transit IT Guru Are You?” here. Stay tuned for next month’s piece on the five things IT professionals wish software providers understood about their transit agency.