As a result of the introduction and evolution of digital technologies in almost every aspect of our lives, IT technologies have entered a new phase of growth which is continuous and rapid. This growth has intensified the need for a workforce with IT knowledge and skills i.e. a workforce competent in leading edge ICT technologies such as BigData, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Cyber-security. As a consequence of this demand, there is a significant talent gap in these technologies. In a recent survey by MIT’s Sloan school of management, 40% of the participating enterprises declared that they were struggling to attract and retain talented professionals in the areas of BigData and data analytics. Likewise, the International Data Corporation (IDC) has recently predicted that by 2018 there will be a need for over 180.000 people with deep analytical skills, as well as a need for over 1 million workers with data management and data science capabilities.
This talent gap is one of the most significant barrier against using the various IT technologies in our lives to the full potential. It’s therefore important to take steps that will help close this gap. Remedial actions can be primarily taken by enterprises and yet governments could substantially help the process by establishing proper policies. In the quest for proper policies that could alleviate the IT talent shortage both governments and enterprises need start by understanding the trends in the job market.
Job Market Trends
The IT related segment of the job market is driven by the following trends:
- Digital Literate Workforce: Nowadays most blue-collar workers are required to have computer expertise. In addition to a workforce with IT skills, there is a need for workers with adequate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, in almost all working environments. For example, factory workers are increasingly required to be able to think analytically, while operating computers, smart devices and robots. Overall, there is a need for more digital literate workers than currently produced by our education systems.
- Ageing workforce: The number of older workers is increasing, due to the rising longevity and increase in pension age thresholds. As a result, enterprises are dealing with large numbers of older workers and hence need to take actions to ensure that these remain productive and up-to-date. Older workers have, in comparison, weaker digital skills, which can be a hindrance in using their skills optimally.
- Positive “image” of IT professions: The job market welcomes skilled IT professionals. This is one of the main reasons why there is a positive perception regarding digital jobs. This makes younger professionals keen on working hard to fill the IT talent gap, as they also perceive that IT jobs provide a wealth of career development and advancement opportunities.
- It’s not only about technical skills: While enterprises are constantly seeking employees with proper technical skills, there are also keen on workers that combine these technical skills with soft-skills that help in interactions with customers and co-workers. Such combinations, even though highly demanded, remain very rare.
Best Practices for Enterprises
Enterprises should invest in new processes for attracting, retaining and developing talented workers that will help them succeed in the digital era. To this end, the following best practices are suggested:
- Revised recruitment processes: Enterprises should update their recruitment processes in order to meet latest requirements about IT and digital skills. This requires a redefinition of the notion of talent in the digital era, which will enable recruiters to identify, interview and recruit proper candidates. Human Resources (HR) departments should be in charge of designing and operationalizing such revised recruitment processes.
- Understanding the need for new employee profiles: Modern companies need to recruit for digital roles and positions that hardly existed in the past. For example, the roles of the Chief Digital Officer and of the Digital Engineer are entirely new for industrial organizations. Creating and supporting these roles in the company is certainly a step towards reducing the effects of the digital skills shortage. This may require revisions to the company’s corporate structure and organizational chart, which are considered important towards adapting organizations to the needs of the digital era.
- Continued Education and Lifelong learning: Knowledge becomes obsolete at a rapid pace. To their rescue, enterprises should plan for retraining their employees, as a means to ensuring that they remain knowledgeable, productive and competitive. Lifelong learning processes must evolve in-line with the state of the art and the state of practice in digital technologies such as IoT, AI and cyber-security.
- Professional Networking and Social Media: Revised recruitment processes should be supported by modern tools. Nowadays, HR processes are boosted by professional networking platforms such as the very popular LinkedIn network. Enterprises must take advantage of these platforms when implementing search, recruitment, education and lifelong learning activities for their employees.
- Academic Partnerships: One of the best ways of gaining access to IT talent is establishing collaborations and partnerships with academic institutions. Based on appropriate programs, enterprises can get early access to young and talented professionals during their first steps in the job market. At the same time, academic institutions can greatly benefit from enterprises’ feedback regarding the status and the needs of the job market. Overall, this linking of industry with academic organizations can provide tangible solutions to the IT talent shortage.
- Keeping Employees Satisfied: Retention of IT talent should be also among the priorities of modern enterprises. To this end, they are expected to keep their talented employees happy, motivated and overall satisfied from their job. In this direction, they should take measures like establishing a pleasant working environment, providing career advancement opportunities, as well as offering incentives for improved performance. Furthermore, employees should feel unique so as to engage actively with their role.
Beyond Enterprise Planning: Government Policies
Government policies about alleviating the IT talent gap should go hand-in-hand with the efforts of enterprises. In particular, these policies should focus on:
- Fostering education and training on leading edge IT: Our education systems should also become aligned to the technological advancements and hence the needs of the industry and the job market. This means that these institutions should provide IT-related knowledge for building the next generation of IT professionals. Despite the rising number of IT graduates, these young graduates are unable to meet the demands of the market due to lack of relevant knowledge/ technologies.
- Introducing IT in all disciplines: Policy makers have sometimes the wrong perception that enterprises need people that will build the next generation of IT systems, while ignoring the vast base of users of these IT systems who also need to be IT literate, to a certain extent, to be able to utilize these systems. Therefore, IT should become an integral element of education and training in almost all disciplines. Likewise, IT-related certifications should be introduced along with the university degree courses. Certifications have a practical nature and offer a tangible proof of an individual’s digital skills.
- Bridging the Intergenerational Gap: Younger individuals tend to be much more knowledgeable and comfortable with IT technologies and the digital era, when compared to older workers. There is therefore a need for alleviating this gap between generations, through programs that incentivize younger individuals to transfer their knowledge to older workers, in exchange of access to older workers’ experience and expert advice.
The IT skills gap is a thorny issue, which can hardly be solved in a few years. However, if enterprises, governments and citizens cooperate and work towards alleviating this talent shortage, the IT industry will feel a positive impact and will reach new heights of growth and innovation by leveraging the IT talent at its disposal.