Monday, June 22, 2015

IT Skills Gap: How to Fill it

 Hire mindset and capabilities, train for specific skills.

Due to the changing nature of technology and accelerating speed of business changes, among the most pervasive and persistent concerns or complaints from IT leaders is the skills gaps, such as their people do not have the right competencies; they can’t find the right skills to fill the positions or their non-IT partners do not understand IT, etc. Are such problems an organization specific, or systematic? And how to mind the gaps and achieve business goals?

Hire mindset and capabilities, train for specific skills: The premise is that you should hire capability and intelligence, not just specific skills, as the skills change so rapidly due to the shortened knowledge and technology life cycle. While there is a core set of skills that are essential, there are clearly different considerations for entry level positions versus more senior level positions, as well as differences in more technical responsibilities versus more management/leadership responsibilities and differences for IT versus non-IT professionals as well. While there are certainly a lot of IT people out there, there are a much smaller percentage who are really the "go-to" people, the ones who can work independently, have excellent problem-solving skills, are disciplined, have a "customer focus," and communicate well. Organizations who focus on someone with specific skills such as a language, infrastructure platform, or technology, and ignore candidates with less experience but possess intelligence, learning agility, excellent communication skills and a "can-do" attitude may be doing so at their own peril. It is important to hire really bright, energetic, positive people who may have less specific skills but have the traits described as intelligence, problem-solving, communications, etc.

IT leaders need to do self-reflection first: One of the skill gaps is the lack of digital mindset and recombinant capabilities in the CIO him/herself. Often times they look narrowly at specific problems and projects developed to solve those business problems, partly because that is the way funding is allocated, rather than having a broad view of their enterprise and the longer term strategy for the organization. They fail to keep up on standards within their domain that can lead to the holistic enterprise viewpoint, and execution of IT strategies that fit within that enterprise viewpoint. Often times projects are not cohesive and create more problems when done independent of the enterprise than they solve. To train up an intelligent staff, you have to start looking internally to your own skill set. When the IT leaders don't really understand technology while pretending the opposite and doing all that it takes to protect the status quo to avoid any kind of disruption; that unwanted outcome becomes the output of simple logic based process. It is hard to be a CIO, focusing exclusively on your organization and lacking the time to keep up with the broader views of IT as it rapidly changes, thereby leading to knowledge stagnation.

The effective solution is to start educating by opening the doors to true knowledge: But to do so; the systemic fear must be disabled, and that can be achieved by having a new ice breaking change wave. But this time; it will not be about a new technology adoption, but about learning how to think right about the technology itself. Because when you don't have the right thinking, you can't really understand it right, and that will be pushing you systematically to making bad decisions, leading to wrong actions giving you at the end the unwanted outcome. This vicious cycle can then be broken by education, the education of the IT leaders. But to be realistic, education alone is not enough powerful to drive that wave or awareness for knowledge acquisition, it needs a much important purpose to motivate the IT leaders to start learning. And that could be the organizational growth or cost optimization purpose, as this strategic objective will generate a greater fear than the fear of the status quo protection because now more often IT becomes the main cause to fail business. Keep in mind that the skills problem is not just with entry level people, mid-level and senior level managers and staff also have skills problem:
-Technical skills - business/management, industry, thinking, learning, and interpersonal skills are fundamental
-Vendor knowledge skill gap- the problem is also with service providers and vendors
-IT-Non IT disconnect: Non-IT managers and executives need to understand how to leverage their IT investments across global scope.

Constructive Thinking about IT skills competencies by level: The problem of IT skill gaps should be seen as an opportunity, especially as more and more organizations are seeing IT as an enabler and driver of generating revenues. So the constructive thinking about IT skills competencies goes from the most knowledgeable to the less knowledgeable by level:
a) Level 1: Science community professionals, the ones who create the main abstract concepts on which the concrete technology (software /hardware) is based on.
b) Level 2: The vendors, as they are the ones who built their commercial products by being mainly based on the concepts above, but few invented their own original concepts as well.
c) Level 3: The integrators or professional services providers, which are the business partners of level 2 and their mission is to sell the above.
d) Level 4: The technology consumers’ organizations who are mere followers of the 3 levels above.

The knowledge (skills) acquisition issue is a systemic problem: So first, understand the problem by going to the root causes and then beyond the symptoms. This is because true understanding is a life changing for any decision maker. As when you do understand; you’ll know what you need (even if it is a vague idea), and then what will be left is to mainly know how to get it, and then leadership can be applied concretely by showing the direction. If you only fix the symptom, not the root cause, then it perhaps causes more problems later. And that is why our world today; contains, in reality, more problems creators than true problems solvers because trying to solve a problem, by nature will create others. And if you don’t have a sound solution to each newly created problem, you’ll have very little chances to succeed solving the main problem, because all is connected. The reality is that whatever something is complex (especially in IT), after digging enough, you’ll always discover that the heart is based on very simple but highly strategic abstract concepts (mainly logic-based). And when those concepts are served to the CIO in a simple manner, it is a done deal, as reliability becomes on his/her side. When trying to provide such decision related help, you must also understand the initial psychological environment state; where the CIO is living, because what he/she thinks to being impossible, is rarely true, but he/she believes it because of the environment influence, so you need to find a way to help that decision maker to recalibrate his/her thinking about what is really possible.

Business benefit via minding the IT skill gaps: Overall, technology tends to be more dynamic in a company as well as across the industry, while leadership/management/industry changes more slowly. The key is to recognize that they both change and demand everyone to continuously maintain and grow their expertise/skills and that the IT job market for candidates with the right skills is growing. What would be the impact of the filling the gaps on your organizational business?
- Having the financial possibility of becoming truly innovative
- Becoming a better competitor at the organization business domain level
-Helping to maximize the sales because of the above using technology
-Helping to maximize the profits and long-term growth of the organization.

Either IT or organization as a whole needs to take the next digital practices of talent development and management, the responsibility to maintain and grow one’s expertise (technical and management/ leadership/ industry) has always largely fallen on the individual employee; albeit it is great when the organization provides support. While there are clear opportunities to better prepare HR partners, as well as IT managers, on how to more effectively manage talent life cycle, the digital principles include hiring mindset and capabilities (the digital version of hiring character and attitude) and train for skills.


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