Hiring Resilience is issue #7 in the 2024 EDUCAUSE Top 10.
"Staff workload and well-being is a challenge. We ask our staff to do more with less. And I would say there's a real sense that some of that is becoming unsustainable, and we are having to put a lot of energy into both supporting staff in terms of their well-being and trying to ensure that we aren't creating problems for ourselves in the future. Sometimes we have to just reflect on the fact that while we might want to do something, we don't have the capacity to do it. Otherwise, our staff will start to fall by the wayside."
—Chris Linton, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost, Loughborough University, England
Technology managers continue to struggle to hire and retain staff. The competition for IT talent is greater than ever. Higher education salaries have always been lower than those in the private sector, and when talent is scarce, that matters more. To a large extent, IT managers have very limited ability to compete on salary. Institutional budgets are tight, and HR leaders strive to maintain internal equity to ensure that existing staff aren't paid significantly less than new hires doing the same work.
While highly important, compensation is only one factor motivating aspirants. Today's workforce wants flexible work opportunities to achieve work-life balance. That balance differs for each individual and varies across time, which is why flexibility is so important. In fact, those seeking jobs in technology say that flexibility is as important as compensation.Footnote1 But employers are ambivalent about whether and how to maintain the schedule and location flexibility that became prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. In higher education, campus-based work is viewed as a key aspect of the culture at many colleges and universities. Hiring managers at these institutions may struggle the most, because they will have to try to hire within both compensation and work location constraints.
Beyond the issue of whether to introduce some schedule and location flexibility is the question of how to do so. In general, managers prefer policies and guidelines that extend to everyone equally. But different workers value different kinds of work-life balance, necessitating policies that embrace diversity and center on equity rather than equality. A Gallup poll found a 50-50 split between people who prefer a job that is 9-to-5, with work and life separated, and those who want to be able to blend work and life throughout the day.Footnote2 Yet extreme flexibility can backfire. Anyone who has gone to the office only to find a ghost town knows that the benefits of working on campus accrue only when most others are on campus too.
Higher education IT professionals are talented technologists who are excited by the opportunity to solve the big problems we face. They want to align data across our systems, build collaborative and engaged governance models, ferret out the important questions we need to answer, derive meaningful insights, and design models that better support the success of all our students. They also want a seat at the table, and they want to be part of collaborative, effective teams, working in partnership with colleagues across campuses.
Compensation is important. But for Gen Z and, to a large extent, millennials, work that enables them to make a difference in the world, offers work-life balance, and encourages collaboration is just as important.Footnote3 IT and HR leaders can shape a compelling value proposition for working in higher education around these values.
If leaders hope to at least approach parity with industry salaries without increasing costs, they may have to hire fewer people. The opportunity lies in learning how to take work out of the system through process redesign, automation, or elimination of underused services, rather than expecting more from a smaller workforce. The staff who remain need to be committed to the institution, understand its needs, mission, and goals, and be able to cultivate trusted relationships across the organization. IT leaders should differentiate between the work that is relationship-grounded and the work that is more transactional. They can outsource or enlist outside services for the transactional work and then focus resources on those staff whose work is differentiating, collaborative, and relationship-based. In addition, IT leaders can enlist their staff and business unit leaders to identify which work matters most and needs to stay in-house and which work can be handled elsewhere. This will make workloads reasonable and allow staff to get the best work done.
Every one of the 2024 EDUCAUSE Top 10 both relies on and creates opportunities for the technology workforce. Institutional leaders must have talented technology staff if they hope to develop cybersecurity as a competency, use data to drive decisions, provide better access to services for students, or cultivate institutional agility.
Recruiting, retaining, developing, and providing succession planning for IT staff is fundamental to building data and technology organizations that maximize the ability to support the constituents and missions of the institution.
Get flexible and dare to be radical. IT and HR leaders must work together and be willing to rethink rigid hiring practices and working policies. They need to influence institutional culture to introduce innovative hiring and workforce pilots and practices.
Become an integrative CIO.Footnote4 Technology and data leaders who are people- and relationship-oriented and know how to be an integral part of institutional strategy and leadership will have the political influence to make the case for better compensation and workplace flexibility. They will have helped institutional leaders understand and value technology's contributions to the institution.
Build a workplace of belonging. Job applicants can easily sense how staff feel about their work and colleagues. Whether work is hybrid, in-person, or remote, all staff must feel welcomed and part of the institutional and organizational community.
Rethink the work and the organization. Financial constraints and job openings can be an opportunity to restructure jobs and work duties to create sustainable work levels at attractive salaries.
The Key to Progress
The job market and issues of work flexibility are still evolving. Recruitment and retention practices and policies will have to evolve accordingly, because today's solution may not work tomorrow.
From Strategy to Practice
What You're Saying
"Our model is to not try to 'hold on' to people but, rather, be straight about our expectations and encourage using our platform as a launching pad for their careers."
"In order to right-size programs, institutions will need talented staff who can multitask. This leads to efficiencies in the services even though the staff size is lower."
"We can only offer a fun workplace and good benefits. Our salaries are not keeping pace, and we do not maintain market equity."
"We have kept our remote work procedures in place post-pandemic. The majority of IT staff are working almost 100% remotely."
"One of our strategic plan items at Pima County Community College District is to create a sustainable IT workforce. We have built an amazing feeder program through our part-time service desk assistants. This year, we are looking to expand upon that and create job-shadowing opportunities to grow our front-line staff. You have to buy or grow talent; with little success buying it, we are going to focus heavily on growing it."
"One year ago, Youngstown State University formally reorganized our IT student worker program into a Tech Academy. In this new format, we recognize our Tech Academy students as future employees. In combination with the Career Ladder that we put in place five years ago, we have created a strong pipeline of talent. Over the past five years, at least half of our hires have been former student workers."
What You're Working On
Comments provided by Top 10 survey respondents who rated this issue as important
Career development and retention
- Audit of all IT job descriptions; focus on career pathways—internal promotions, succession planning.
- We are transforming our career model to allow promotions in place to prevent people from leaving. We continue to allow flexibility in work locations (hybrid, remote), and we have not given up our office space.
- Developing internal growth opportunities. Introducing mentorship programs for students.
- Investing in upskilling and training programs for IT teams can help ensure campus resilience under challenging situations. We focus on cybersecurity, data analytics, cloud computing, and other areas relevant to the campus IT structure.
- We are bringing in exciting retention techniques including "stay interviews" and additional professional development opportunities that can enhance employees' interest in staying with the university.
- Developing retention activities to create stickiness for current employees (e.g., coffee sessions, promotions from within, stretch goal opportunities).
Compensation and benefits
- Building leadership and campus commitment and leveraging new governance committees to implement an achievable performance-based pay system that ensures pay equity with local and regional IT positions.
- We are focused on a compensation program that annually raises the minimum compensation ratio for each job family and job classification and then also decompresses salary. Our first focus is on retention.
- Reworked titles and descriptions. Set a standard salary to be at 60 percent or the average for our size/location. Aligning benefits between staff and faculty.
- University HR policies allowing signing and retention bonuses provide managers with tools to attract and retain exceptional talent/individuals.
- Increased efforts to hire a diverse workforce.
- Making sure hiring teams understand agility and diversity in hiring.
- Bringing in professional development for the IT department to learn additional management, communication, and interviewing skills. Making DEI the norm and something for all to participate in.
- We have a Diversity, Equity, Inclusiveness, and Belonging committee that has recommended new hiring practices. We've also launched a formal employee recognition program.
- Significant efforts to empower and engage IT employees to improve their sense of belonging. Zero turnover this past year.
- Auto-empowerment. IT crew responsible and able to make decisions.
- We have created a culture of empowerment. We care about our team members and lean into their ideas. Salaries are not keeping up with the market, but many people find the trade-off of lower pay for being treated like a person worth it.
- By policy, we have maximum flexibility in working locations, schedules, and conditions.
- More and more campuses are realizing the advantages of offering remote work and flexible arrangements to attract and retain IT professionals. We are doing the same, where employees can work remotely twice weekly.
- Accepting a world where we have many remote employees and learning how to help them become a part of the institution/department culture. Investing internally in training, flexibility, and retention.
- Allowing remote work when possible and adding flexibility in work hours.
- Shift to remote work has allowed a wider audience for recruiting and hiring.
- Offering remote work opportunities and considering a better office environment as we renovate our office and other spaces across the university. We are also trying to focus on work-life balance more intentionally.
- We know we need to be more flexible with work-life balance, so hybrid schedules are increasingly available to our staff. In some cases the work is completely remote, whereas in the past, remote was rarely available, especially if you worked close to campus.
- New IT HR staff hired to develop a hiring plan.
- We are working to streamline and simplify our HR hiring processes and heading in the direction of implementing a new, shared HR system with these simplified processes built in.
- More strategic partnerships with HR and coordinating position descriptions and advertisements—we're hoping to attract better candidates for our positions.
- Leveraging students on campus to generate a symbiotic relationship of curating and fostering experience for them while creating motivated, eager-to-learn contributors in the team.
- We are shifting on the fly to become much better at growing our own talent by creating career paths for entry-level staff to grow into other roles. The challenge is that this puts a lot more pressure on our entry-level hiring both to recognize that long-term potential and to be our primary source of diversity, as they become the pipeline for new people to enter the organization.
- Partnering with recruiting agencies and doing a try-before-you-buy program where we test the staff before making a full hiring decision.
- We are being more creative in our job descriptions and leveraging talent over experience.
- We have generally done well, but this is a challenge post-pandemic. However, with the adoption of appropriate technologies, we have not been affected by the staff leaving us. By moving most services to the cloud and adopting no- or low-code solutions, we have lowered our reliance on specialists. We have outsourced CISO and some of the systems management services to guard against this in the future.
- Pivoting strategies to include a more diverse mix of gig workers and full-time employees. Being mindful of burnout and differentiating projects and assigned talents to operational excellence versus strategic growth initiative and development.
- Pushing the advantages to working for the university by emphasizing all the positive aspects.
- Steps have been taken to reorganize the IT department with a major focus on security, which included transitioning existing qualified staff members into more challenging roles.
- Bringing in professional development for the IT department to learn additional management, communication, and interviewing skills.
- "Win Over IT Talent by Upgrading Your Hiring Process," Gartner, March 30, 2023. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
- Jim Harter, "Splitters and Blenders: Two Different Relationships with Work," Gallup (website), December 8, 2022. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
- Britt Peterson, "What Gen Z Wants in the Workplace," Washington Post, June 16, 2023. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
- See "Issue #10: The Integrative CIO," in Susan Grajek and the 2019–2020 EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel, "Top 10 IT Issues, 2020: The Drive to Digital Transformation Begins," EDUCAUSE Review, January 27, 2020. Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
Liv Gjestvang is CIO, Denison University.
Kelli Renee Jackson is Director, Digital User Experience Team, Coppin State University.
Mike Richichi is AVP for IT and Deputy CIO, Baruch Computing and Technology Center, Baruch College, City University of New York.
Carol Smith is CIO, DePauw University.
© 2023 Susan Grajek and the 2023–2024 EDUCAUSE Top 10 Panel. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.