You may have no one to blame but yourself for that supposed IT skills shortage. Even SMBs can find low-cost training options.
3. Enable Job Description Creep
This one's a no-brainer for SMBs that already ask employees to fill multiple roles: Encourage technology skills development by empowering employees to spend time learning or working on projects that don't have an immediate connection to their current job description.
"[Offer employees] hands-on experience outside of their day-to-day tasks. For instance, have them create a mobile application for the firm or get involved with a [technology] pilot project," Borre said. "Learning is a process, so having them apply their knowledge in more [real-world] scenarios will help them feel more comfortable experimenting with [new] technology."
4. Do Lunch-and-Learns
Borre recommends the lunch-and-learn approach for SMBs with limited financial resources to put into skills development. This entails inviting guest speakers and presenters to your offices to share their expertise on a topic and answer questions. (It doesn't have to be held during lunch hour, but that's a logical place to start.) "Not only are these enjoyable, as it gives employees a break in the day, they're also very affordable if the firm can find a local speaker to volunteer to talk about the subject for free," Borre said.
You can use a similar model when employees attend conferences or local meet-ups, or if you're providing them with educational assistance: "Having a lunch and learn to allow the person to share what they learned and answer questions is a great way to allow the rest of the company to benefit from one person's educational experience," Borre added.
5. Consider Prizes For IT Innovation
Consider offering financial or other incentives for employees or teams that solve specific business challenges with IT innovation. Enable the entrepreneurial mindset in your employees -- something that should be a natural fit for many SMBs -- and you might find returns on the investment in unlikely places.
"Many large enterprises have incubators and run contests for a financial prize or the opportunity to present to the CEO, something that needs to trickle down to [SMBs]," Borre said. "This will allow for a fresh and exciting environment, along with keeping your technology workforce skills cutting-edge."
6. Make Professional Development Part Of Your Culture
A longer-term payoff of fostering internal skills development: It can revamp a dysfunctional or staid organizational culture. Employees will replace "I wish we had someone who knew how to do that" with "How do we learn how to do that?" So even if your company doesn't have a team of, say, data scientists on the payroll, employees can still make data-driven decisions.
"Corporate cultures that have innovation labs or other places to conceptualize ideas allow employees to cultivate their interest in top tech trends," Borre said. "These also allow employees with similar interests and ideas to get together."
This in turn can help attract the next wave of talent to your organization, especially if you're looking to hire younger workers. "Young talent will want a casual, fun, flexible and innovative work environment," Borre said. "If employers can provide this type of culture with the training they need and want, they are more likely to not only attract top talent, but also hang onto it."
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Nov. 10, 2014Just 30% of respondents to our new survey say their companies are very or extremely effective at identifying critical data and analyzing it to make decisions, down from 42% in 2013. What gives?