Mar 25 2021

Insulate Higher Ed IT Teams Against a Future ‘Brain Drain’

To fully appreciate IT employees as the strategic assets they are, a culture shift is necessary.

Even before the pandemic, cybersecurity experts were in short supply. Higher education has a hard time competing with private sector pay. And cloud-savvy technologists can be difficult to hire in adequate numbers, leaving IT leaders to grow these skills internally. To make matters worse, the pandemic’s financial impact is putting additional pressure on campus IT staffing.

In October 2020, an EDUCAUSE poll identified a potential “IT talent brain drain” on the horizon — the result of extensive morale damage, as well as a “decreased ability to attract and retain skilled IT staff due to downward pressures on salaries and overall reduction in headcount.” If it’s true that culture can go a long way to protect against turnover, what should higher education leaders be doing to retain valuable IT employees?

Improving the Morale of IT Employees

To fundamentally improve morale, it’s time to stop seeing IT employees as people who are useful only when technology breaks. IT departments showed what they were capable of during the pandemic, when information security leaders stepped forward to sustain COVID-19 testing efforts on campuses across the U.S.

MORE ON EDTECH: IT innovation is helping campuses open safely.

To fully utilize IT employees as the strategic assets they are, universities must keep inviting IT leaders to the C-suite table. Let them know you value their capabilities — and that you will help them fulfill their potential.

Let’s face it. The students of today and tomorrow cannot have a proper education if their institutions have not made good technology investments. Tech is just the cost of doing business. More than ever, universities need advanced systems and networks to give students a quality education. To achieve the best possible learning outcomes, IT leaders need to be involved in these management decisions. This will require a culture shift in many institutions.

Security Teams Need Time to Tackle More Pressing Challenges

As more universities turn to automation, institutions are beginning to see a different cost structure. Across higher education, a massive consolidation of IT departments is taking place that will ultimately drive costs down.

This is especially true with cloud migration. Universities no longer need 50 IT employees dedicated to managing complex networks. Instead of having 25 on-premises data centers, an institution might need only two.

That’s the value of hiring a managed services provider (MSP), which can help colleges and universities manage their technologies in a cost-effective way. For example, CDW•G’s modern infrastructure services can help institutions navigate the complexities of consumption-based technology. This allows universities to pay cents per gigabyte, rather than tens of thousands of dollars on servers — which, in turn, makes it possible for universities to give IT employees more competitive salaries.

When IT departments no longer have to dedicate so much time to these menial tasks, they can focus on developing specializations in data science, cloud and artificial intelligence — skill sets that universities will inevitably need more of in the future to create optimal learning environments.

BE SAFE: Here's the sanitization and social distancing tools that campuses need.

IT Departments to Play a Key Role in Student Success

When routine tasks can be outsourced to an MSP, IT departments can potentially play a more active role in important areas such as student success. With a rise in one-to-one laptop programs and immersive learning experiences that require augmented and virtual reality, IT employees will need to be more involved in student services.

More and more, technology will be consumed through an as-a-service model. When students experience tech issues, they won’t want to wait several hours at an Apple store to get the tech support they need for their education.

Ideally, IT departments should be able to send someone to either fix the device or swap it with a new one. This is the type of on-demand service that is still lacking in higher education because it requires significant manpower to achieve. But with MSPs, this level of quality service is within reach.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.


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