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Our last post outlined the many challenges and concerns that IT companies face when attempting to hire professionals with the mix of skills and knowledge they need to be successful. That article generated a tremendous amount of comments from MSPs and vendors, with several solid suggestions on solving the issues (which I included in this discussion).

The biggest challenge to overcoming a skills shortage is for a business owner to take the time to build a viable employment plan. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when they’re attempting to resolve the specific issues that come with a managed services delivery model. Before the various options can be properly assessed, MSPs need to truly understand their long-term hiring needs.

Constructing a strategic employment plan may be as simple as extrapolating the company’s revenue and using its productivity-per-employee to calculate the overall manpower requirements. MSPs also need to assess the skills they require to support any new business units, as well as the expansion of their existing services. Of course, automation and a number of other factors could skew those estimates, especially over time—but it’s a ballpark figure that can be adjusted quarterly (or as often as needed).

With their employment goals in mind, MSPs can then research the amount of talent available locally. That’s where successful organizations thrive, leveraging regional business associations and community leaders to gauge the pool of existing, qualified professionals. Some IT organizations regularly discuss their employment needs with their local small business administrations, regional colleges and technical schools, and community chambers of commerce. That dialogue can generate leads to prospective candidates or at least increase awareness of the opportunities the company has available for the right candidate. Of course, an MSP may find the local talent pool empty—which means it’s time to move to “Plan B.” Those alternatives include:

1. Expand Your Geographical Reach

One of the most frequent complaints is that there isn’t an overall skills shortage, but a lack of talented individuals in the place they’re most needed. There’s merit in that argument, but the resources required to recruit, relocate and/or train new employees from remote locations can be cost prohibitive for the average MSP.

When should an MSP cast a wider geographic net to recruit new employees? When the skills they possess are essential to the company’s success or when the organization has expansion plans in that vicinity. If a prospective employee could manage a new office or complete their tasks remotely, this could be an attractive option.

2. Hire the Hungry (and Trainable)

Do you want to adapt a pot someone built for their needs, or mold a new one that fits your plans? There are many positives for hiring raw talent, and training those individuals to be rock stars, but there are also tremendous drawbacks. It can take years to properly prepare a quality technician and the investment in materials and patience can be major obstacles for a thriving MSP to undertake.

Of course, how often do employers give someone their first shot at an IT career and, after making a significant investment in their training, they leave for a bigger company or a competitor? Turnover is a killer to an MSP’s efficiency; reducing potential productivity through attrition. Contracts that include non-compete clauses may help minimize “job shopping,” but there are few things an employer can do to protect their training investments.

3. Collaborating with other MSPs

Partnering with another solution provider to support a particular client or service offering can be a rewarding experience, especially for MSPs who support customers outside their geographic reach. By pooling capabilities, both companies can reduce their labor and skills needs, particularly when they complement each other’s strengths and deficiencies.

In the era of rapid technology shifts, partnering can be a simple short-term or long-term solution. For example, an MSP with a strong cloud expertise may joins forces with a company that has a comprehensive mobility practice so they can support a large insurance company. When the partnership responsibilities are properly outlined (in a written agreement) and each party fulfills their duties, it’s a win for everyone—including their mutual clients. Best of all, each MSP enjoys an increase in revenue without changing their business model and, occasionally, these relationships lead to mergers or acquisitions.

Of course, collaboration isn’t without its risks. If the responsibilities aren’t properly spelled out, or if one of the partners isn’t as committed as the other, the alliance and contract could be in jeopardy. That’s why many MSPs go slow with collaboration, starting with a well-defined trial project with an “out clause” or expiration date. That gives both parties time to evaluate the relationship and proceed (or bail) based on their success (or failure).

4. Leveraging the Resources of Outsource Partners

One of the most cost-effective ways to solve a skills shortage is to partner with a third-party agency that can provide the needed expertise when and where they’re needed. Rather than hire a top-dollar specialist to support a new practice or technology, an MSP can contract with GMS (or a similar company) to provide the necessary services. That gives a provider the flexibility (and time) to properly evaluate a new business opportunity without adding significantly to their payroll.

Another outsourcing opportunity for MSPs is in eliminating repetitive tasks. Technicians and engineers aren’t often needed on an initial support call, and many companies redeploy their more tenured (and more costly) employees to the field over time as they gain useful experience. Outsourcing an MSP’s call center is a great option when the talent pool gets low. Whether the service is used during the workday or 24/7, it frees up company employees to manage the most difficult or highest-profile client issues.

When selecting outsource partners, MSPs need to validate that their prospective partners can properly support their clients. Do they have the proper skill sets and certifications? If you’re contracting for cloud or mobility support, ask for proof of related accreditations and training.

As you can see, there’s no cheap solution to resolving the shortage of IT professionals, but the final two options can minimize the expense and frustration of hiring. Of course, the most cost-effective way to keep employee productivity high is to retain your best people. The value of a known entity is often better than the alternative—especially when the professional you could lose if a critical part of your business’ success.

With all these options, how are you solving your employment challenges?