As an EOS implementer for IT companies, I’m hearing the same thing on almost every call this year—“I can’t hire the people I need to service the business I have.” From the front lines to NOC, every single type of IT professional is in high demand. And with Google and Facebook hiring entry-level technicians for double what most MSPs can afford to pay, how is any MSP supposed to get a handle on staffing?
There is an answer to this question, and it requires us to shift our thinking in two ways. First, we need to shift how we think about what an IT job is. And second, we need to shift how we think about who the right fit for those jobs will be.
I started in IT in 1990, and when I began, we had a room full of Data General servers and a few hundred “green screen” dummy terminals at the large corporation that hired me. Adding a user to the system was 20 minutes of command line entries. Doing the backups each night required a full-time overnight employee who knew how to manage the finicky tapes and backup machines. And, importantly, the user’s sense of who I was was radically different. At that time, users expected the computers to regularly break, and they knew the IT guy was special—a brilliant nerdy type with no social skills who knew how to make the impossibly complex machine “go.” We were not expected to provide good service, we were just expected to get the thing to work again.
Today, things have changed dramatically. Users now expect that their computers will work 24/7, and they’re upset when they don’t. There is no belief by the average user that “these things are complicated and will periodically break.” They also expect their IT support provider to be helpful and friendly—part therapist, part computer-fixer. In the past 30 years, front-line IT went from being a technical job that interacts with customers to being a customer service job that does technical things.
When I managed Exchange Server 5.5 on Windows NT 4.0, troubleshooting email delivery problems required someone making six figures who’d spent three years getting Microsoft certifications. Today, it requires someone with a couple of hours of training who can log into Microsoft 365 and go to the Exchange admin center and click “message trace.”
This leads us to our second major shift—changing our conception of what an IT person looks like. When I look at the “about us” page of most IT companies, I usually see row after row of white male faces. And yet, the U.S. census just came out with some truly stunning data—Americans younger than 40 are overwhelmingly non-white. More than 60% of Americans under 40 are people of color, and 50% are women.
So…we’re all trying to hire the same group of people (young white men with two to five years of help desk experience) AND that group is shrinking! If we’re going to succeed in hiring in 2021, we need to change our thinking about who we’re going to recruit, and how.