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The US has nearly 1 million open IT jobs—here's how much it can pay off to switch industries into tech

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The tightness of the labor market has been making headlines all year, but perhaps the biggest talent crunch can be seen in the technology sector.

U.S. companies had about 918,000 unfilled IT jobs in the past three months, The Wall Street Journal reports, according to federal employment data analyzed by CompTIA, an IT trade association.

Part of this has to do with companies simply investing more in tech to drive business initiatives — and as a result, having to build out those departments quickly.

"Every company is a tech company now," Mehul Patel, CEO of tech recruiting site Hired, tells CNBC Make It. "Even if you're Capital One or Disney or American Express, you have to hire tech talent, and you have to focus on building an employer brand and creating a funnel for talent."

But while demand for tech workers has skyrocketed — job postings in the technology sector rose 32% in the first half of 2019 compared to the year prior, according to CompTIA — supply hasn't kept pace. Accounting for the 60,300 people who graduate with a computer science degree every year, 20,000 developers who complete coding bootcamps, and even maxing out the 85,000 available H-1B visas to fill tech roles with international workers, that still leaves a major gap in talent.

Companies are now spending more time and resources on competitive recruiting efforts. According to a 2019 report from iCIMS, a recruitment software provider, it took companies an average of 55 days to fill a tech role in 2016, but that jumped to 66 days in 2019. These vacancies are costly, to the tune of about $680 in lost revenue per day per vacancy, according to iCIMS data.

"It's taking longer, it's harder and we're finding fewer qualified applicants to fill those positions," says Keyur Ajmera, vice president of infrastructure shared services with iCIMS.

Solving the problem from the inside

Beyond hiring and recruiting, one major way companies can bridge the tech shortage is to retrain current employees through internal mobility programs.

Tony Byrd, 27, has benefited from such initiatives firsthand. In 2017, he was working at the coffee shop on IBM's campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, but was unsatisfied with the direction his career was going. Through networking with IBM staff, he realized working in tech was something he wanted to pursue and applied to the company's apprenticeship program.

If you have the right skill set, that'll negotiate your career for you.
Tony Byrd
software engineer, IBM

Byrd left his barista job and excelled in the one-year, full-time program and, in August 2019, joined IBM's Cloud projects team as a software engineer. He now earns just over three times what he made as a barista, which has afforded him more earning power to save for his two kids' college educations and provide them opportunities he didn't have.

He tells CNBC Make It that identifying his own interests in electronics, taking a few coding workshops on his own and speaking with mentors in the field helped him realize it was the right move for him.

"I think most people are interested in technology: phones, computers, game systems, graphics," he says of easing into the field. He was motivated to master the technical skills in one year that most computer science grads learn in four. "I've invested a lot in my skills — studying, putting in extra hours .... If you have the right skill set, that'll negotiate your career for you."

Gabrielle Hempel, 28, of Cincinnati, made the jump from working in pharmaceutical regulation to cybersecurity about two years ago. She paid $100 a month to enroll in a program with Cybrary, a crowdsourced cybersecurity and IT learning and career development platform. Within eight months, she secured a role as a security analyst with Accenture, earning a pay bump of $40,000 more per year than her previous job. Within a year in the field, Hempel negotiated for a promotion to senior security analyst with Accenture, and she's noticed recruiting efforts are "night and day" compared to her previous industry.

Recruiters have said to me, 'We can teach people the tech skills, but we can't teach them to be interested and passionate.'
Gabrielle Hempel
senior security analyst, Accenture

"Since there's such a need and it's so competitive, it's easy to compare and drive your salary and benefits up," Hempel says of her newfound earning power. She estimates the salary range for the next step in her career will amount to an additional $30,000 to $40,000 in pay, "so you're talking $70,000 to $80,000 more than I was making in my last industry, which is a lot."

Having a background in another field actually gave her an advantage, she says, and recruiters are generally more keen to bring non-tech talent into the fold.

"Recruiters have said to me, 'We can teach people the tech skills, but we can't teach them to be interested and passionate,'" she explains.

Hempel originally earned a degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice. Bringing in a different perspective has been an asset to her work.

"Even when I started as a security analyst, I thought, 'Why did you hire me? I have no experience in this field!'" she admits. "But I have learned so much in the last year and a half, and everyone's unique background can bring something to this field. Security and tech are fields that touch every other field: finance needs security, health care needs security, education needs technology."

In addition to her day job with Accenture, Hempel also does course development work for Cybrary to come full circle and encourage other people who are just getting started in the field. Indeed, raising awareness about the different specialties and opportunities within tech is another critical component to narrowing the tech gap among younger generations.

The earning power of today's tech super-stars

Data from iCIMS indicates app software developers are the most sought-after tech workers, making up nearly one-third of all tech openings. They earn a mean annual salary of $108,080, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Roles in information system security, system support and network architecture are also in demand and command six-figure salaries. In some of the most competitive, and pricey, markets for tech, software engineers of varying specialties easily earn upwards of $150,000, according to Hired data.

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