6 Ways to Address the Technical Skill Gap

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In my recent post on why there's a tech skill shortage, I provided some fundamental reasons why there is a significant skill gap between what IT organizations are seeking and the skills that many entry level technologists command. It's a serious problem for businesses when hundreds of thousands of jobs go unfilled for more than ninety days while more than 11% of undergraduates are not employed six months after graduating.

There are ways for corporations, universities, students, government, and nonprofits to chip away at this issue. Getting kids coding earlier and establishing bootcamps are good ideas suggested by CareerFoundry. Florida is allowing students to replace their foreign language requirements with coding skills, a move that I would label a compromise as I'd prefer seeing students learn both foreign language and coding. The Forbes Technology Council published a number of important suggestions including getting more woman and girls to code and reviewing incentives, training, and mentoring programs.   There are also many that believe the gap could be solved by offering apprenticeships.

The Tech Skill Gap is Everyone's Issue

You can't solve the skill gap by putting the burden only on employers, employers, or students and it will take a coordinated effort over a period of time to reduce this gap. Here are some of my suggestions

  1. Employers can hire citizen developers and data scientists with technology backgrounds. Businesses need STEM graduates in many areas outside of traditional IT especially if they want to mature citizen development or citizen data science programs. This will require convincing business managers that hiring technical candidates is a smart strategy and also require developing different career paths for candidates that sign on. 

  2. Partner with the freelance community to give experience to entry level engineers. Candidates can build up their experience and technical skills by winning and completing projects  while employers can experiment with new talent without committing to employment.

  3. Engage multiple universities on corporate sponsored hackathons is another way corporations and universities can partner to mutual benefits. By working with multiple universities, corporations can increase the likelihood of getting real business value from these contests while also evaluating the work from multiple potential hires.

  4. Corporations have to renew their responsibilities to provide ongoing training and a reasonable work/life balance to the engineers that they hire. Too many organizations expect short term ROI from training programs and make it difficult for technologists to break from their business deliverables so that they can learn or practice new skills. Even worse is when organizations overwork their top engineers making it difficult for new hires or mid-level talent to contribute. I would love to see large organizations accept a manifesto that requires ongoing training and balancing the workload of their engineering talent.

  5. Universities should partnerships with MOOCs to provide students specialized technology training that may fall outside of the curriculum required for a degree. It's unlikely the average university will prioritize extensive course and lab work in technologies such as Hadoop, Apache Spark, data preparation, CRM, mobile development and other commercial or open source technologies where the skill gap is most significant. 

  6. Reach out to non-profits, veterans and other alternatives to fill skill gaps. LinkedIn, Microsoft, Amazon, and Uber are all investing in military veterans, many who have technology skills and can fill technical roles across the organization. More than 300 companies are participating in TechHire, a campaign sponsored by President Obama to expand local tech sectors by building tech talent pipelines in communities across the country. NPower is an organization that provides individuals, nonprofits and schools opportunities to build tech skills and and is also an opportunity for corporations to support.

These ideas only work if corporations and universities make changes that go beyond filling roles on today's projects and addressing the needs of today's graduates.   

1 comment:

  1. I personally believe that a lot of the new skills and technologies can be mastered by an existing team. Years ago when .NET first came out, people were coming off from Classic ASP, Visual Basic, and Linux languages such as Perl. If every company immediately started looking for .NET developers outside of their existing IT workforce, it would have been turmoil. With some exceptions, today's trends and technologies are no different.

    A good developer will be naturally curious and drawn to these technologies, and will want to learn and master them. While it may take longer to produce results, the benefit is having qualified, business knowledgeable people, doing the work. I say "may", because bringing someone new requires them to master the business first, before they can produce a viable solution. The other issue is that using someone new who's working with technologies your organization is not familiar with causes a "black box" effect. In essence you can't police the new recruits because you don't know enough to stop them when they make mistakes.

    Education and cultivating your IT teams is the answer to the shortage. There is such a vast amount of training, consulting, and information available today that education becomes an almost free solution. Its results is that you have a team that's always challenged and always striving towards new achievements, while cultivating career paths, and working towards the solutions the organization needs. Most importantly, your technical team fully understands the business, and applications they work on, and all of that knowledge is kept at the organization.


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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.