Friday, April 26, 2013

Is IT skills Gap Fact or Fiction?

Either IT skills gap is fact or fiction, visionary CIOs will have to make an influence on both talent management and STEM education system.

There’s always a debate regarding IT talent supply and demand, does IT skills gap really exist? Or is it due to any management issues such as misunderstanding or miscommunication upon talent value chain? What is the root cause and how to solve the problem? 

1. Where is “IT Skills” Gap? 

The skills gap does exist. With pervasive IT, new products, the need to innovate has to be balanced against reduced budgets and higher salaries. It means that IT has to do more with less. However, there is also the need for IT teams to be multi-functional. This requires quality training and constant monitoring for gaps. Mainly IT needs two types of talent, specialized IT generalists and IT specialists. IT indeed faces a few big talent challenges.  

  • IT Specialist: The first is pure technical skills. The highly technical programmers and engineers with deep knowledge and good experience who can handle the heads down technical tasks are always hard to find. 
  • Specialized IT Generalist: The second, and, even more elusive, are people with the mix of technical, business and leadership skills that are so critical for management and senior leadership positions in today’s IT organizations, as the pool of talent with business savvy and tech knowledge will be drawn dry quickly 
  • Emerging Technology Expert: Organizations do need folks with strong analytics skills to help IT and the business formulate, articulate and answer the big questions that will reshape the business. Also, on a more technical level, organizations need the talent to help build and operationalize private/hybrid clouds. 
  • “Hard Skill” vs. “Soft Skill”: IT organizations have been over the last decades too much focus on “hard” skills, not looking at the business reasons to do things and understand the business. As a service provider, IT should understand their customers, their business, provide innovative solutions and systems to support and make a business to grow and gain competitive advantages, in the other word, IT needs to have more talent with well balanced hard skills & soft skills and business literacy. 
  • STEM Education Gap: Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills gaps are present and growing: One study indicates 15-25MM unfilled jobs by 2020 because the US is not building a strong enough pipeline across both genders. Industry and education (K - 16) need to work together to encourage and fund young people to be interested in STEM careers. And education does not stop with a degree – IT career takes life-long learning attitude.

2. “Skills Gap” is Management and Culture Gap 

Many academics, consultants or industry gurus also argue the “skill gaps” is not a real “skill gap,” but simply “misunderstanding” or “miscommunication” gap.

  • Purple Squirrel Syndrome: A Purple Squirrel is a creature which is nearly impossible to find and in staffing the term refers to a job specification with skill and experience requirements which are impossible, or nearly impossible to find. It’s not only a syndrome, but it’s also a mindset that spans many lines of business and it is dangerous, especially to innovation. They want a candidate to have all these specialties but seldom does it happen that way. Or simply the case of reticent employers who in a post-Recession economy that is growing slowly, are combining two, or three jobs into one position. 
  • Toxic Culture Ingredients: IT leaders always should ask themselves whether the workplace is healthy enough to attract the best and brightest.  Either gender gap or generation gap, what’s the root causes behind it? Is it caused by out-of-date IT geeky image? or is it caused by toxic culture ingredients? A toxic workplace is usually identified by the lack of morale evidenced throughout the organization. Toxic characteristics may include Unethical conduct, un-professionalism, unsatisfactory communication (in general), back-biting and rumor-mongering, obsessive favoritism, discrimination (age, racial, sexual, etc), harassment of any kind, etc. These are just some of the characteristics -- and the numerous possible combinations thereof -- would make a workplace more or less toxic.  
  • Out-of-Date Talent Recruiting/Management: There's misunderstanding or miscommunication (lost in translation) in between IT talent request and HR's searching mechanism, also, there's disconnect of IT's short term staff needs and long term talent perspectives; From IT talent management perspective, how to encourage IT professional in either category step out of comfort zone, continue to learn, continue to innovate, and update performance management practices by assessing both quantity and quality result objectively, to well define talent 2.0 in order to adapt to the fast-paced business new normal. 

3. How to Mind the Gap 

By understanding whether there’s real IT talent gap or not, then, IT leaders can build a solid talent strategy in minding the gap.   

  • Shape a Learning Organization: Most people that enter this topic think of the transient skills of yesterday’s technology or the current product versions. They fail to grasp the root of the matter which is a person's ability to learn - quickly - and adapt prior knowledge to new experiences. Which by extension, applies to IT departments giving us the idea of a learning organization.  
  • Update Talent Competency Model: IT is transforming and moving to reach higher maturity at the digital age, IT talent needs to have both technical and business skills, it should take preponderant importance on the coming years to make sustainable IT-Business relationship. Business-IT integration rather than an alignment of both is the key to success in companies. The value is not in the technology itself but in how to use it, having clearly understood how your business works and what their goals and strategy. So a new IT role will have more a BRM approach rather than purely technical skills. The talent competency model & methodology need to be updated to well reflect such changes. 
  • Streamline IT Talent Pipeline: Whether IT can attract the brightest talent or not also depends on how effective the CIO is marketing his/her organization as a contributor to the corporation and society as a whole, IT knowledge life cycle has been shortened due to the changing nature of technology, thus, when assessing talent, more dynamic and balanced approaches are needed, instead of just searching for keywords, HR 2.0 will leverage the emerging talent pipelines and shift mindset for understanding talent with empathy, recognize raw intelligence through wise eyes. Forward-looking IT organizations need to discover and develop talent for tomorrow, rather than just hire for yesterday. 
 Either IT skills gap is fact or fiction, visionary CIOs will have to make an influence on both talent management and STEM education system, to cultivate next generation of IT talent systematically, attract global IT talent for blending innovative cognizance, and solve IT talent shortage for the long term.  


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