Why IT People Don’t Move Jobs

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

The average tenure of an IT professional in an organization is still around two years on average, but there are exceptions where workers stay around what seems forever. Why?

I know of several dedicated, experienced IT professionals in the US, UK and South Africa that are in a ‘trap’ – i.e. they feel stuck in a rut. It’s amazing how many people find themselves in this situation. I wanted to know more about why this happens, so I have been looking at job mobility in IT people, and surveyed 50 IT professionals across a wide number of industries. I selected these people had all been in the same job or department for five years or more in the same organization, were dissatisfied with their current role, but didn’t feel they could move on.
I asked them for their primary reason why they felt this way. Here are the results:

% Respondents Reason


Felt their skills and experience weren’t transferable to other organizations


Were worried that they hadn’t enough experience in practices to secure roles in other organizations


Believed they were being overpaid for their current work and that they couldn’t secure equivalent pay in other organizations


Lacked confidence in their value or personal brand to seek alternative employment


Other reasons

The results are interesting I think. (What do you think – post your comment.)

What’s more, of the 38% that felt their skills and experience wasn’t transferable, over half were in organization that hadn’t adopted ITIL yet, or any other industry standard . And of the 24% that felt they hadn’t acquired enough experience yet, once again over half hadn’t adopted ITIL, or any other industry standard. I see a theme emerging.

My interpretation of these results is this. Workers who don’t operate within environments of industry standard are building up knowledge and experience specific to their current organization. This knowledge, it seems, is of little value outside.

The implications of this are that employees in this category will become less and less productive and motivated over time whilst they feel more and more trapped. Over time, this will be costly for their employers. What’s more, it is unlikely their employers will attract new professionals into their organization, reducing their agility and ability to flex up and scale.

This situation maybe due to the way some organizations look at their IT capability. Some, I have experienced, see it as simple as a cost on their bottom line and the cost is sunk. This is a very operational view. I still find that some organizations don’t yet see that investment into IT is a strategic asset. If investment into ITIL and other standards was seen as a means of increasing business agility through people then this whole dynamic might shift.

Ultimately, investment in IT and its workforce is both an operational cost (keeping the wheels on) and it is an enabler for the future. But there is a big, fat, grey line between those two outcomes. Giving people the skills to do their job more efficiently gives them the easier choice to leave, but that choice is a reminder why they remain with their employer and, I argue, will maintain motivation and productivity. Having the organizational framework that accommodates and requires these skills also opens up the door for new blood and a flexible workforce which should give business managers the assurance that their capability is always there, on tap.

Is the Industrialization of IT message getting through?

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4 thoughts on “Why IT People Don’t Move Jobs”

  1. Simon,

    My situation is slightly different. I made a decision to specialize in a technology that was is/was not commonly used. I’ve been using the same skillset now for 14years. I used to average at least a 20%p/a increase on my rate, so the going was good. I don’t believe that I am overpaid but in developer’s standards, my salary is higher than the norm.

    My only challenge at the moment is deciding on what it is I want to do now. I’m even considering relocating overseas where the prospects in what I do, are a bit better than where I am at the moment.

  2. simonstapleton

    @GM: This also came up in the survey – in fact it was 6% (3 people) who felt this way too. In all three cases, each respondent said their chosen technology was coming to its end of life and that they hadn’t re-trained but retraining wasn’t being offered by their employer. I don’t think there is a straight answer to this other than in a long career of delivering technology you pick up many skills and experience beyond the technology, such as management, leadership, industry knowledge, etc so there are often other paths available

  3. Very good list. My first real I.T. job out of college got me into that mode. I felt I was overpaid for what I knew, and what I was doing. And after being there a while, my skills became more and more specific to that organization.

    In an organization with a few thousand employees and around 100 I.T. professionals, they followed almost no standards or guidelines other than their own. The I.T. department was considered one of the worst run divisions at that time (and it was).

    I think people need to realize how valuable I.T. skills are and learn to have confidence in themselves.

  4. @Samuel – especially at the moment! In these times, it won’t be the meek that inherit the earth, it will be the confident.

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