Six Tips for Closing Your Association’s Tech Skills Gap

Finding it hard to get the right technical employees—whether developers or IT administrators? It might be time to play up your organization’s hidden advantages—including, potentially, your location.

There’s a lot of competition for technical employees these days. After all, with potential for-profit neighbors sucking up all the job-market bandwidth, it might feel like you’re up against it when trying to convince IT pros to work for your association.

And things are getting hard out there. Last week, I wrote about a Gartner study that lays into the point that employers often pay above market value for workers with needed skill sets—an approach that has the effect of actually encouraging existing employees, who are paid lower rates, to start looking.

These issues are doubly problematic when it comes to tech jobs, where skill sets are increasingly in demand, but it might not feel like you can keep pace with firms for whom technology is more of a dedicated discipline.

But certainly there are still ways that associations can get the skills they need when they need them. A few strategies to consider:

Play up a cost-effective location. If your organization is based in an area with a low cost of living, that might be music to the ears of prospective IT employees. Tech on the Move, a CompTIA study that was released last week, found that the overall cost of living was the largest deciding factor for IT employees looking for somewhere to live, something cited by 82 percent of tech pros as a very important factor. It was especially important among generation Z, and it outpaced other traditional factors such as climate (64 percent), commute times (62 percent), and jobs available (55 percent)—and well past tech salaries (51 percent). It turns out an affordable city beats out a “cool” one for many.

Focus on the basics. The CompTIA report noted that, for millennial and gen Z employees in particular, job security and a good salary remained among the top factors in where IT pros decide to work. For that reason, associations should take steps to focus on their general stability as employers and to emphasize salaries that are competitive with the broader market.

Double down on the mission. “In comparison to for-profits, nonprofit employees have been ahead of the curve in one key area: the desire to work for mission-driven organizations,” a recent report from the nonprofit fundraising firm Classy said. There is always going to be a contingent of technical employees who are looking for more out of their employers than a paycheck—and you should focus on that messaging in your job listings, if your organization has a mission that lends itself to such a strategy.

Consider a remote hire—or let a moving employee stay on in a remote role. For jobs that often aren’t front-facing or on the front lines, let remote workers take up the helm from a distance—if the employee shows the right attitude and demeanor for such work. As I wrote earlier this year, there is a growing case for going remote-first as an organization, but even if you can’t go that far, the right worker might thrive when given the freedom to work outside a main office.

Look beyond traditional education metrics. Four years of college may be a baseline in most of the professional world, but big parts of the tech industry have stopped thinking explicitly in these terms. In recent years, firms such as General Assembly and Lambda School have taken steps to rethink what a tech-minded educational experience can be. (Lambda’s model is particularly experimental—it gives students an immersive education in software engineering in exchange for a portion of their initial salary, but only if that salary is above $50,000 per year.) Tech is ahead of the curve on this front—and given the recent talent crunch, it might be good to expand your horizons of what makes a good digital employee.

Don’t forget the gig economy. For smaller nonprofits, you may not have room for an on-staff developer or even someone to maintain a fleet of laptops. But with enough looking, you can often find necessary skills on the freelance market. As I highlighted last year, there’s even a startup, Wethos, that helps nonprofits build out as-needed development and design services from gig economy workers.

And, of course, your organization might just be better off with a vendor taking on certain technical tasks.

But that said, technology has a way of spilling into every part of what an association does—and correspondingly, organizations should take steps to make room for those technical skills, and think long and hard about how to keep that skills gap as narrow as possible.

Because, let’s face it, it’s just going to keep getting bigger if you ignore it.

(Michail_Petrov/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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