Why there's a Tech Skill Shortage - A CIO's Perspective

A couple of articles published last week raised the issue of whether universities are graduating sufficient technology talent to fill positions at US companies. First, Gary Beach provided significant evidence that the skills gap is no laughing matter to CEO and CIO that recognize technology can drive transformation and growth. He quotes studies showing over 500K IT jobs remain open after the first 90 days and that the most sought after skills are in algorithm design, distributed systems, cloud computing, machine learning, mobile development and NoSQL. In the UK, TechRepublic asks why 11.7% computer science graduates remain unemployed six months after graduating.

I'd like to offer some very simple reasons why the skill gap is real and why new graduated are entering the market without sufficient skills to gain employment. In my next post, I'll provide some suggestions on what businesses, students, and universities can do to close the gap.

Transformation Drivers and Financial Constraints Drive CIO Hiring Strategies

Gartner basically shows flat IT spending over the last five years while CIO are required to do more supporting digital transformation, big data, mobile, security and other initiatives. Even when transformations such as cloud, SaaS and lowcode platforms can help reduce costs over time, there is a significant transition period where CIO have to fund multiple platforms and skill sets in parallel.

Couple these financial constraints with the need to go faster, deliver more innovative solutions, and provide solutions that enable amazing user experiences across multiple channels. CIO have to find an optimal mix of talent that can drive these initiatives, meet competitive challenges, and live within financial constraints.

Lastly, maintaining systems for key business processes is an important secondary challenge as the cost of downtime is more expensive and the expertise to maintain multiple interconnected legacy systems scarce. Top talent is often assigned to drive transformation and those left to support production platforms require multiple skills and talents to resolve issues, identify root causes, or perform upgrades.


 CIO Hire Multi-Skilled Technologists with Deep Expertise

What this means for most CIO is that when they need to hire, they are likely searching for multiple skills with deep understanding of several platforms. They can't hire DBAs, databases architects, database programmers, and system engineers to manage their databases and are likely looking for people that demonstrate multiple skills. They are unlikely to be on a single database platform and are probably investing in Big Data and NoSQL technologies, so database specialists are expected to be strong in different technologies and platforms. Databases don't operate in silos and have data preparation, analytics, mobile, and other interfacing applications, so engineers and developers need some mastery of these middle tier applications. If they're developing custom workflows and user interfaces then "web developers" are expected to have mastery in both "front end" and application development domains. CIO always struggle to fund testing so they are likely looking for people who perform some combination of functional testing, automation, load testing, security validation, browser testing, and other forms of quality assurance. UpScored.com's representation of the top 30 skill gaps likely resonates with many CIO.

When the logistics permit hiring someone skilled with one or few technology skills then they are more likely to outsource this resource need. The project demand for this skill set may be temporary and it is often cost effective to fill gaps using freelancers or with offshore or nearshore service providers.

Lastly, digital transformation often requires leveraging emerging technologies where having significant experience and knowledge is necessary to be effective delivering solutions. CIO are more likely to hire experts for these initiatives because the risk of under-delivering with mediocre or entry level talent is too significant.

Businesses are All Competing for Top Talent, Outsourcing for Skills in Single Technologies

So the gap is simple and real and here's why. When CIO are hiring, they are looking for employees that either already have deep expertise in multiple technologies, or show the capacity to learn these quickly. They are willing to pay top dollar for a versatile data scientist that can work with multiple platforms rather than invest in several data scientists with specific skills. When they need scale or specific skills, they are more likely to build offshore captives, partner with service providers, or look to hire remote freelancers.

This also explains why so many graduates have a hard time finding positions. If they come out of school knowing only a handful of technologies and platforms with entry level experience, only the largest hiring firms will be able to interview twenty to hire five and aim to retain two.

The Tech Industry Has Better Options to Address the Skill Gaps

This isn't the first time the tech industry, academic institutions, and tech graduates have witnessed a significant talent gap. Whenever there is a new group of technologies that can drive significant business transformation there is a strong likelihood of skill gaps in both new and legacy technologies. Remember how hard it was to find web programmers in the late '90s to develop websites while searching for cobol programmers to address Y2K issues?

But there are options that can address some of these gaps that I will cover in my next post. Signup below if you want a preview!

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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.