IT professionals can expect increasing pressure from management to learn new job skills as cloud and mobile computing gain traction and new cyber security threats emerge. Unfortunately, those same IT pros can't reliably expect much in the way of assistance from their employers to get that training.
A new research report, "State of IT Skills" by CompTIA, found that around 9 in 10 business managers see gaps in workers' skill sets, yet organizations are more likely to outsource a task or hire someone new than invest in training an existing staff. Perhaps worse, a significant amount of training received by IT doesn't translate to skills they actually use on the job -- savvy IT pros might need to invest their own time and resources in training for the sake of job security.
Not all is bleak in the report. The study points to the fact that organizations strongly appreciate IT's valuable role in business, even if upper-level executives and HR personnel don't understand the underlying complexity of learning, deploying, and maintaining new technologies.
In general, according to CompTIA's report, which is based on responses from IT and business managers at 502 U.S. companies, 93 percent of organizations acknowledged an overall skill gap among their IT staff -- that is, the difference between the existing skill levels and desired skilled levels. Further, 60 percent of respondents reported their organization's IT skills being not close or only moderately close to where they wanted.
The biggest gaps were in the following areas:
- Networks infrastructure (LANs, WANs, and so on)
- Server and data center management
- Storage and backup
- Help desk and IT support
- Cyber security
- Database and information management
- Data analytics and business intelligence
- Web design and development
Areas where respondents had fewer concerns about skill gaps include:
- Mobile devices
- Big data
- Printers, copiers, and multifunction devices
- Search engine optimization
- Mobile application management, development, and so on
- Apple devices
Those lists tell only part of the story, as they incorporate responses from organizations of all sizes. Breaking outthe findings a bit, larger organizations are placing more importance on skills pertaining to virtualization, SharePoint, ERP, big data, cyber security, telecom, and A/V. Smaller firms are more focused on skills pertaining to SEO.
Another point of comparison: IT companies place relatively higher importance on such skills as big data, application development, Web design and development, mobile development, Linux, and cloud computing. Non-IT companies, meanwhile, are most interested in skills pertaining to telecom, printers and copiers, and A/V.
Respondents recognized the adverse affects of insufficient IT skills at their organizations. 41 percent said it hurts staff productivity; 32 percent pointed to a hit on customer service and engagement; and 31 percent said it led to security holes. Further, 34 percent of IT companies said the skill gap hindered the speed of getting newer offerings to market; smaller companies linked a lack of IT skills to a drop in profitability.
As for the causes of IT skill gaps, 46 percent of respondents blamed fast-changing technology, which makes it difficult to IT workers to stay current with skills. Forty-three percent of respondents said the gap stemmed from a lack of resources for IT skill development. Nearly 40 percent opined that IT education and training was not sufficiently translating to workforce performance. Additionally, 29 percent of respondents said that IT pay was too low in certain areas to attract employees to fill the gaps. For smaller companies, lack of resources for education and training was a significant contributor to the gap.
How, then, can organizations go about closing the IT skills gap? One approach would be for organizations to implement a formal process with which to identify skill gaps before they become a detriment. As it stands, 56 percent of organizations said they had no such process in place, while another 29 percent said they had an ad-hoc process.
Another solution is for executive management and HR to give the IT skills gap problem closer attention. As it stands, 64 percent of respondents with business functions said HR and management gave enough attention to the IT skill gap problem. By contrast, 42 percent of respondents with IT functions said HR and execs are not paying enough attention to the problem. CompTIA's perspective: "Clearly efforts are concentrated elsewhere when employers should try to focus more on their employees; their most valuable asset, after all. Those in IT management are especially feeling the neglect."
Among common themes from respondents, business management fails to recognize the importance of IT as it relates to the organization's overall strategy; management does not provide adequate funding and resources; management doesn't understand how much time is necessary to IT professionals to stay abreast of IT trends and learn new skills; and management doesn't understand the underlying complexity to deploy and maintain a given product or service.
Once management and HR grasp the important of closing the IT skills gap, they should consider training existing staff as a less-expensive alternative to hiring new employees or outsourcing. As it stands, 57 percent of respondents said training or retraining staff would be their strategy to closing the skills gap. 38 percents said they would go with outsourcing or contractors; 28 percent said they would hire new employees.
As for training methods: 50 percent of respondents said they used online self-directed training. Forty-percent said they went with vendor-provided training. In-house, in-person training was an approach of choice among 38 percent of respondents; 36 percent had the in-person training conducted externally. Another 30 percent embrace conferences and workshops as a place for training, whereas 17 percent had IT staff complete college coursework or pursue an advanced degree.
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