As the number of enterprise networks explodes, finding qualified network operators is becoming increasingly challenging. Making matters worse is the grim reality that there's really no end in sight to the problem.
The shortage is being exacerbated on both the demand and supply sides, says Clyde Seepersad, senior vice president and general manager, training and certification, for The Linux Foundation, a non-profit technology consortium. "Every company today, no matter the industry, is now a technology company," he explains. "That means they need networking talent to conduct business." Making matters worse, more organizations are pursuing digital transformation initiatives, creating an even greater demand for network operations talent, Seepersad says.
LynnAnn Brewer, a director of HR research and advisory services at human resources consulting firm McLean & Company, sees several factors contributing to the current talent shortfall. At the top of the list, she notes, is a lack of development programs offering basic technical education to industry newcomers. Another concern is the field's technical complexity, combined with the time and expense it takes for an organization to develop candidates who can function productively in a network operations center (NOC).
After years of technology and workplace turmoil, infrastructure talent has acquired a fresh and radical perspective on how they prefer to work, observes Tracy A. Howard, senior practice vice president at IT professional resourcing, project solutions, and managed services provider Experis. "Job seekers are now able to pick and choose who they work for," he says.
The ongoing talent shortage, combined with rising living costs, means that hiring managers can no longer be oblivious to job candidates' salary expectations. "Network operations talent expect a highly competitive salary because of the marketplace demand for their developed skills and experiences," Brewer says.
Managers should also address prospective talent's desire for future development and growth by explaining how the organization helps its new hires refine their technical skills. "It's also essential to be clear about how the organization will support the talent in staying on pace with industry knowledge and its rapid, cutting-edge development," Brewer states.
Seepersad warns that it's impossible for network leaders to simply hire their way out of the talent shortage. "There aren't enough skilled individuals out there, and there's too much competition for them," he says. "That means you need to develop your own talent."
Seepersad suggests targeting underutilized employees who, with upskilling, could be reassigned to NOC roles. "If you've exhausted your in-house talent pool, you need to consider hiring less qualified individuals and providing them with the training to do the job," he says.
Another approach, best suited for internal or external NOC job candidates with minimal skill backgrounds is to make completion of a training course–even a free introductory course–a prerequisite for hiring. "Provide paid training on a probationary basis, and they only move into a permanent role upon completion of training or passing a certification exam," Seepersad says.
Brewer suggests broadening hiring pipelines by creating in-house talent pools. She advises partnering promising candidates with internal technical experts to create pathways to NOC careers. Another approach is to build relationships with schools and other organizations that produce individuals with the essential skills needed for entry-level work. "Current NOC supervisors, employees, and talent acquisition teams must collaborate to build relationships and attend events that showcase junior talents," Brewer says.
Seepersad says the most common hiring mistake he sees is focusing solely on a job candidate's past experience. "Many of the most important technologies today are only a few years old, so job postings requiring multiple years of experience aren't going to get you good candidates," he explains. Seepersad feels that it's better to focus on an applicant’s current skills and potential for growth than on past successes.
Antiquated hiring practices may also be contributing to the network operations talent shortage. "Too many organizations have too many layers of approvals in the interview process," Howard says. Days or weeks spent pondering applicants enables competing organizations to scoop up promising candidates. Allowing hiring managers to hire pre-checked candidates on the spot after short interviews can help an organization acquire qualified network experts, even in today's challenging market.
Building an internal talent pipeline will likely remain a strategic imperative for many years, Seepersad predicts. Meanwhile, he believes that NOC leaders should spend more time examining their hiring practices and considering how they can best respond to talent shortages in a sustainable way. "That includes looking at the organization's structure, thinking about its culture, and revisiting compensation and career management programs and policies."