Feb 17 2023

How a Higher Ed IT Succession Plan Can Keep Employees from Leaving

Keeping staffers trained on the latest tech and showing them a path to promotion can keep teams together and prevent costly departures.

University IT departments are working short-handed. The “great resignation” did not miss college campuses, and the budget-related hurdles that have long tested higher education IT certainly didn’t go away when we were met with a pandemic nearly three years ago.

It’s hard to put a finger on just how understaffed departments are, but put a few other data points together and they paint a concerning picture. CyberSeek reports that more than 755,000 cybersecurity jobs are open as of the middle of February, and a 2022 survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources revealed that 57 percent of higher ed employees were likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months. An EDUCAUSE QuickPoll noted similar sentiments among higher ed IT professionals, with 55 percent of respondents “leaving, considering leaving in the near future or planning to retire soon.”

In other words, staffing challenges for IT administrators are only going to get worse unless something changes.

Several of the obstacles to building a full staff — like budget and worker shortages — are out of the IT department’s hands, but there are still some important steps IT leaders can take.

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Why Are Higher Ed IT Employees Leaving?

The March 2022 EDUCAUSE QuickPoll also probed higher ed IT employees for the reasons they were dissatisfied with their jobs. Some of their frustrations were expected: 46 percent wanted more income, 34 percent wanted to branch out and 42 percent cited a lack of staff and resources in their departments.

But a deeper dive into the data points to another issue: Employees feel stuck in their current positions. Mid-level managers were the group most likely to be looking for work, and employees who had been in the same positions between six and nine years were the most likely to be headed for the door.

DIG DEEPER: Learn how universities can recruit and retain diversity in tech fields.

Staff members feeling stuck might not sound like a good thing, but IT leaders have the power to make those employees feel freer, and it starts with thoughtful, committed succession planning. When done right, succession plans leave IT departments prepared for staff losses and allow employees to further their careers — or at least see a potential path forward — without having to seek out another job.

According to Ceridian’s 2022 Pulse of Talent survey, 37 percent of responding employees said they would consider leaving their jobs if an opportunity for career advancement presented itself, and 27 percent said they would leave to “learn and develop new skills.” If those things were offered in-house, employees might be more likely to stay.

How Can an IT Succession Plan Keep Employees from Leaving? 

There are a handful of reasons institutions should be developing IT succession plans, but once the basics of such a plan have been laid out, training becomes a vital piece of the puzzle.

Learning new skills is something employees want, regardless of their career ambitions. A 2021 (ISC)2 study found that 40 percent of higher ed IT security professionals were looking for additional training in cloud computing security, about a quarter were pursuing skills related to risk assessment, and another quarter were interested in artificial intelligence.

Beyond boosting their skills, higher ed IT employees also want to see themselves in new roles in the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the colleges or universities where they’re currently working.

While supporting IT succession plans with training is important — both so that employees are ready for their eventual new roles and so they know their employers are serious about developing their careers — so is understanding what employees want out of their careers.

The best succession plans offer paths forward on different tracks. If someone is interested in a future in management, for example, a focus on developing soft skills is wise. If that person is more interested in the technical parts of the job, honing those particular skills is most important. Staying connected with the human beings who make up IT teams is key to ensuring that what you’re offering is what your employees actually want.

UP NEXT: Colleges seek new ways to foster cybersecurity mentorship programs.

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