Slim Pickings: Is There A Skills Shortage Looming?

Paul Freeman, president of Coast Solutions Group, a solution provider services network based in Irvine, Calif., said the situation is suddenly a lot worse, and it&'s catching both VARs and customers off-guard.

“Now, everybody wants to implement higher-end technology and they don&'t have the staff for it,” Freeman said.

Indeed, in a recent CRN Web poll, 58 percent of respondents said they were having trouble finding technical personnel, 21 percent reported no problems, and 21 percent said they were not hiring.

And with CRN research showing that more than 60 percent of solution providers are hoping to add staff in the next six months, the problem will only get worse.

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Pat Grillo, president and CEO of Atrion Communications Resources, Branchburg, N.J., said he finds himself vying more with vendors filling out their channel ranks than with direct solution provider competitors. He sometimes finds it hard to offer a package better than the promise of stock options that many tech startups still wave at potential employees.

“People are starting to grow again. What makes it harder for us is that we are competing with startups,” he said.

Citing an instance in which one of his vendors recruited an engineer that had recently completed training on its products—at Atrion&'s expense—Grillo said he now protects his talent by putting a clause in vendor and customer contracts that penalizes them for hiring an Atrion staff member. In the case of the vendor that hired one of his engineers over the summer, Grillo said that company&'s top services executive has agreed to reimburse him for certain training costs as well as recruiting fees to replace the engineer.

Koji Mori, general manager of network services at rapidly growing Calsoft Systems, a Microsoft Gold Certified partner that does security and disaster-recovery work in Torrance, Calif., said skilled technicians are his company&'s only growth barrier.

“The biggest problem that we&'re having right now today is actually resources, internal technical resources. It&'s an ongoing battle,” Mori said. “We try to bring on new people as soon as we can, but it&'s really difficult to find the people that have the right experience.”

And the problem isn&'t just coastal. Rory Valselow, president of Peak Resource Center, a small-business-focused solution provider in Milwaukee, said technicians are in short supply in the heartland too.

“Our problem is that they are way too qualified and need too much money or they don&'t know anything,” he said.

Tim Ulmen, product manager of CDI and Digital Home PC, a Wichita, Kan.-based custom-system builder and integrator, said CDI was shocked when it began hiring early this year and met mostly with reluctant or unqualified candidates.

“It&'s been relatively easy to find bench techs, but to find an on-site tech is tough,” he said. “I thought we were in an employers&' market. It&'s perplexing.”

Positions that took as little as a few days to fill a few years ago now take as long as three months, he said. Only a small portion of the problem is proper certification of the candidates, he said.

He said loyalty to an existing employer has been a reason in a few cases, particularly if the existing employer is a bigger shop.

While high-level technology skills are in short supply, in-depth sales skills are also lacking among today&'s job applicants, said John Freres, vice president of sales at Dimension Data North America, which has U.S. headquarters in Hauppauge, N.Y.

Freres blames the dot-com boom for creating a generation of salespeople used to easy pickings. “Now you need to prospect, focus on understanding a customer&'s business,” Freres said. “You have to understand financial statements, compliance and regulatory pressures, consolidation. It&'s a stretch for a lot of these folks.”

To compensate, Dimension Data has created a training program to get sales reps back to the basics of demonstrating value proposition and aligning technology with business needs, Freres said. “There&'s a lost skill set that we&'re trying to build back into these folks,” he said.