Research Shows The Skills Shortage Is Alive And Well In IT
Simon Ratcliffe, Principal Consultant, Advisory
Thursday, May 28, 2020

A recent Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) Research[1] paper reports that a lack of human resource, alongside skills shortages … are the biggest challenges hampering further digitisation.

40% of participating organisations cited a shortage of specific skills as preventing them from being able to execute transformational activities effectively.  The problem with this assessment is that it misses the point of what skills we require to drive effective transformation.

To transform we need not only technical skills: we also need diversity of thought, creativity and an environment that understands risk but is not impeded by it.  We need to recruit against our natural tendencies in IT where we traditionally seek specific skills and often don’t describe the personality and people skills that we are seeking.

To transform we must change this approach

As a group, IT people tend to be risk-averse individuals.  This is important because our primary function is to keep everything working and risk is anathema to that.  Like many other groups we also tend to recruit people in our own image.  This results in us defining the skills we require in detail because they become the differentiating factor in net new recruits.

To transform we must change this approach.  We must focus less on the technical skills and far more on the personality aspects.  Skills can be taught but intrinsic personality is immutable.  If we shift our focus from attempting to tick off a long list of technical requirements and aim instead to build a diverse team of people with strong analytical skills and a propensity to learn and keep learning and then feed this team with a strong Learning and Development culture we will overcome the skills shortage with which we are currently faced.

Recruiting primarily against technical skills is a short-term approach because technology changes rapidly and the skills we recruit today will be out of date very quickly.  If we recruit analytical skills and a propensity to learn we are effectively future proofing our team against these inevitable technology changes.

This fundamental change in our recruitment process will allow us to alleviate the immediate pressure that is being felt, although it is not a quick fix solution.  As well as fixing the recruitment we need to develop more robust Learning and Development environments.  It is not enough to just give people training time or allow access to on-line learning.  These are important but they need structure and measurement and well signposted pathways to guide learning and development in a structured way.

Crucial soft skills for transformational teams

Many organisations operate internship or apprenticeship schemes but the discipline and structure that is applied to these is often forgotten as people graduate through these programmes.  For IT in particular, learning and development needs to continue throughout their careers to ensure that we all have access to the skills that we need without a constant search for additional external staff.  However, we also need to ensure the learning and development is not focussed only on technical skills but on encouraging diversity, building better team working skills and creating groups of people who feel empowered to undertake transformational activities.  These so-called soft skills are crucial for transformational teams and not only need to be learned and developed but actively encouraged across an organisation.

Defining the personality aspects is a novel approach to many IT departments and it’s a skill that needs to be learned.  Equally importantly, the traditional approach needs to be ‘unlearned’.  It is a fundamental change in approach but unless we make this change the findings of the CIF research will be echoed year after year.  We can blame the schools or the colleges and universities for not providing a steady stream of suitable technical skills but unless we make this change in our approach our transformational capability will continue to be hampered.  This change should be part of the transformation within IT and not something that prevents us from transforming.

We need to stop using a lack of skills as an excuse and build the mechanisms to address this as part of the transformation programme.  It really is a case of IT Department heal thyself and we must step up and own this issue ourselves.


[1] The Changing Role of the IT Department – Cloud Industry Forum 2020

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