How to Close the IT Skills Gap
Anthony Losacco, Brian Peterson, and Jason Sango, Forsythe Solutions Group
It’s getting harder and harder to find and retain high-quality IT professionals.
The U.S. creates 120,000 new jobs that require a degree in computer science each year. However, the U.S. educational system only produces 49,000 related degrees — creating an annual deficit of 71,000 degrees and a growing number of unfilled IT jobs.
This problem isn’t isolated to the United States. The IT skills gap is impacting organizations around the world — making global competition for top IT talent fierce.
According to a survey by staffing firm Manpower, 36 percent of global employers are having trouble filling their IT positions. The top three reasons why these positions are going unfilled are lack of technical skills, lack of experience and lack of soft skills.
Areas with the widest IT skills gaps include:
Information security. According to a Gartner analysis, the information security market will have a compound annual growth rate of 8.1 percent through 2018. With such rapid growth, it’s difficult to find trained security professionals who understand the changing threat landscape and how to quickly deploy technologies that might make a difference.
Data center management and engineering. Many organizations still own and operate an in-house data center but don’t have the facilities talent required to operate it. Experienced facilities engineers are being hired by competitors before companies can move to the cloud, leaving them exposed.
Big data. The demand for data scientists is growing at a much faster rate than IT training programs can keep up with. Gartner predicted that 4.4 million big data jobs will be created in 2015, but only one third of them will be filled.
Other in-demand IT skills include infrastructure architects, converged infrastructure administrators, cloud service brokers, and IT automation engineers. All areas of IT are impacted.
The IT Unicorn
Instead of creating solutions to close the skills gap, many IT organizations are making the problem worse. This is because they’re looking for a pre-made IT unicorn — a mythical person with very specific skills who can jump in without any training and work amazing IT magic.
The reality is, this person usually doesn’t exist or they cost more than most IT organizations can afford to pay. The result is that IT jobs often remain unfilled while IT organizations search for the mythical unicorn.
Waiting for IT unicorns puts you at substantial risk. Without new talent, your IT organization won’t be able to exploit emerging technologies and disrupt the market. Yagbing Li, Vice President & General Manager of Storage and Availability at VMWare says, “In this market, IT must be disruptive, or face being disrupted.”
To be competitive, you must hire IT pros who can thrive while working with less mature technologies. This allows your IT organization to be agile and quickly meet customer demands. If you can’t use these technologies, you’ll be trapped with monolithic platforms that cost a fortune and could slow you down.
Your organization also faces more IT security threats. When you have the right people, you can better protect your assets, respond to threats faster and reduce your risks. SC Magazine reported that there is a proven link between weak security and a lack of security expertise within an organization.
5 Ways You Can Close Your IT Skills Gap
Stop looking for the IT unicorn and start building your in-house expertise.
Instead of focusing on finding people with the perfect set of IT skills, look for employees with attitude, aptitude and intelligence. Here are five steps that will help you close the IT skills gap in your organization:
1. Focus on Agility Over Education
Academia changes slowly and isn’t agile enough to teach the specific skills that today’s IT pros need. The future of IT will be increasingly complex and competitive. Moore's Law is relentlessly changing much of the nation's economy and will continue to do so. Workers who know how to think critically and communicate highly specific ideas will be in great demand.
Many computer science programs teach old-school programming languages, specific operating platforms and other technologies that are barely relevant in today’s data centers. Most of these programs only scratch the surface of IT security.
It’s more important to look for someone agile than someone with the right degree. Agile employees enjoy learning and can quickly pick up new skills.
At Forsythe, we have developed an Academy program that hires bright college graduates with degrees in fields such as physics, math, engineering, finance and English. We then leverage their learning agility and develop their IT expertise in-house.
2. Ask the Right Questions
During your interviews, look for people who are passionate about technology and learning. To help identify these people, look for passion in the answers to some simple questions such as:
Are you a gamer? If so, what games? (Gamers love to solve problems.)
What kind of computer systems do you have at home? (Are they passionate about their own technology?)
Have you built your own computer systems? (People who build their own systems are curious.)
Have you ever hacked anything? (Hackers think outside the box and solve problems without complete information.)
Do you have a home lab? (Agile learners test, experiment and play with technology as a hobby.)
What tasks have you used technology to automate? (The best talent hates repetitive work and will automate the mundane.)
3. Encourage Play
Google allows employees to spend 20 percent of their work week on special projects that aren’t related to their regular tasks. Giving employees this room for creativity has been the catalyst for many of Google’s products.
You can build a culture of “learning agility” like Google. Encourage your employees to play and experiment. The more they play, the more agile they will become and the quicker they will learn new skills. You can also create teams of people who push and challenge each other to perform at the top of their games. This will weed out the less capable and make your team stronger.
4. Value the New Generation of Agile Learners
IT organizations need both young agile workers and experienced professionals. It’s hard to quantify the value of agile learners, since many of them haven’t been on the job for very long. You can’t compare them with someone who has been doing the job for 30 years, since they likely have different skills and are bringing a different value to your organization. However, don’t discount them, as they will take you to new places.
Also be prepared for people to move from job to job. This new generation of employees will change jobs a lot. Understand that the people you train will move to other companies and if karma works, more talent will come to you.
5. Form Partnerships
Don’t bog down your agile learners with repetitive and mundane tasks unless you also empower them to automate, outsource or eliminate the tasks. Encourage them to find ways to automate or outsource work that doesn’t require agility. Otherwise agile learners will become frustrated and quit — leaving you with an even wider IT skills gap.
You can also form partnerships to quickly acquire new skills such as working with cloud, data center or IT managed service providers. Partnering with others allows you to innovate and take advantage of the latest technologies — without burdening your in house team with extra work that is outside your core competencies.
If You Build it, They Will Come
Don’t wait for the education system to catch up. The quickest way to address the IT skills gap is to stop looking for the unicorn and stop waiting for the educational system to catch up. Instead, leverage a mix of agile learners and seasoned veterans to carry your IT organization into the future. You can cultivate agility by creating a learning-friendly environment, outsourcing your mundane tasks and focusing your resources on areas that give you the highest returns.