It’s a great time to work in IT, with companies in nearly every industry scrambling to hire more tech talent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for software developers and software engineers is projected to increase 22% between 2020 and 2030, outpacing the predicted 4% growth rate average for other occupations.
To look at it from another perspective, the U.S. job market currently faces a shortage of 472,000 software engineers, which is why hiring tech talent is one of the biggest challenges employers face.
The IT talent gap has been well documented; it made headlines before the pandemic forced companies to accelerate digital transformation initiatives. Back in 2019, CNBC reported that roughly 918,000 IT positions were unfilled in companies across sectors. That number is undoubtedly higher today, with organizations of all kinds increasingly dependent on software to work, collaborate, and communicate remotely.
Given this shortage, it seems absurd to think that any developers are being underutilized at work. But, unfortunately, at many companies, that’s exactly what’s happening. If you find yourself in a similar situation, it might be time to reassess your staffing strategy.
Ensuring Developers Are Better Utilized
Not every company with a roster of developers “on the bench” is mismanaging talent. For example, some large corporations can afford to keep IT talent on standby for when new initiatives arise. But if you’re leading a company with fewer than 200 people on staff yet have a surplus of idle developers, you’re doing something wrong (e.g., sales, hiring, staffing, allocations).
The Failure to Maximize Employee Productivity
A failure to maximize employee productivity is bad for business, and it can be anxiety-inducing for developers. When these employees see their skills not being utilized at work, they wonder whether they even have the right skills. They start to question the quality of their work and whether their billable rates are too expensive.
It takes 66 days to find good developer talent, and it’s 50% harder to find than other skills and competencies. That person on the bench? They could be doing something more rewarding. If you don’t want to miss out on opportunities or potentially lose talented employees, you’ll need to engage developers who are underutilized at work. Here are a few tips:
1. Look inside.
Business owners with a surplus of IT talent should seek opportunities to utilize their skills. To facilitate this search, a growing number of companies are exploring a relatively new concept: the internal talent marketplace. This approach allows organizations to connect developers with new opportunities — both internal and external. (After all, many companies are outsourcing developer work.) This improves engagement and retention.
Of course, you can also use periods of downtime to upskill developers to better prepare them for future objectives. Leading global enterprises have invested heavily in future-proofing their workforces, but upskilling doesn’t have to be a costly initiative. For example, roughly 73.7% of developers are autodidacts, so simply giving them time for self-directed learning can open up new opportunities.
2. Consider cross-training programs.
When assessing your workforce, it’s essential to understand that some key skills are not as easily quantifiable as a software developer’s job listing requirements. Chances are good that the developers you have on your bench are hungry to learn (see point above) and would likely be great candidates for managerial and leadership roles with a bit of soft-skill training. By the same token, employees who weren’t originally hired for a developer position might have the aptitude to learn basic programming skills.
Implementing a formal cross-training program within your organization could give your entire team new and exciting opportunities for professional growth.
When deciding who is the best fit for internal training programs, focus on the skills you want your employees to have in the near future rather than their past experiences and credentials. Just like in hiring, you’ll want to prioritize ability over qualifications to avoid creating unnecessary barriers to entry for capable employees.
3. Implement new internal initiatives.
You might’ve heard that Slack was originally developed as an internal tool for a small gaming company or that YouTube began as an online dating service. While you might not ideate the next big thing in tech from a conference room in your office, allowing otherwise idle developers to work on internal projects can open up a world of opportunities. This is true even if those projects fail or aren’t immediately profitable for your business.
Time on the bench should never be idle. You should always have internal projects to pursue when timely work isn’t straining your resources. Give your developers a framework for joining these initiatives, lay out a clear path for professional development, and foster an environment that rewards learning.
What now? Let your developers get to work. Then, everybody will feel a whole lot better.
Image Credit: thisisengineering-raeng; Unsplash; Thank you!