RSR Research: The Retail IT Brain Drain
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, Retail Systems Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers.
There’s a significant lack of IT talent available to retailers. It causes project delays, higher costs in general (as those with specific skills become contractors for hire) and deterioration in quality.
I can’t believe we’re the only industry with this problem and I’m not sure whether or not we’re the only country having the same issue, but in any case, it’s a real head banger for me. I’m thinking our outsourcing chickens have really come home to roost.
When I started out in IT, I remember being so excited that I’d gotten into a profession that was both reasonably lucrative and most definitely portable. Even if you were quasi-good, you could still find work. Outsourcing changed all that.
One of the people I spoke to at the recent RIS News Retail Executive Summit conference suggested that parents are very careful with their college-aged children and they are steering them away from IT. All things considered, I can’t really blame them. We’ve just spent a decade hearing stories about technology-related jobs disappearing. I knew programmers and software engineers who remained unemployed for several years.
However we got here, we are here now. When I think of all the interest groups who should be caring about this issue, my head spins. Let’s take a look.
Politicians: We’re in an election year. With a structural unemployment rate that hovers at (depending on who you include) between nine and 15 percent, you’d think someone would glom onto this as an opportunity.
Trade Associations: The NRF has a whole website dedicated to the premise that "retail means jobs." But when you look at the initiative’s agenda here, there isn’t a single word about improving our technology competitiveness. That’s really unfortunate given that at least one very large retailer has blamed a failed technology initiative on the inability to find the right talent in just the past year alone.
Industry and University Leaders: Macy’s has done a fabulous job hiring new merchants and store operations personnel through the Lundgren Center at University of Arizona. But where are the matching technical programs?
Left to itself, the problem is only getting worse. One executive I talked to said he’s expecting 30 percent of his programming staff to retire next year, not because he’s running a sweatshop, but because they’re all baby boomers like me. And, well, it’s just that time for many of us.
So what are we going to do? Are we just going to continue to pay too much for our tech projects because we haven’t made the up-front effort? Are we going to rely on people a half-a-world away to solve our critical business issues? Or are we going to step up and be leaders?
Discussion Questions: To what degree is a shortage of IT talent undermining the retail industry? What, if anything, can be done to improve the talent level of retail IT departments?