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IT Skills Gap: What We've Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate

Everyone agrees there is an IT skills gap, but managers and IT pros disagree on the reasons for it.
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A study by IT staffing firm TEKSystems proposes a compelling reason for the IT skills gap in this country -- and it has nothing to do with education or training. Instead, it might be a lack of communication between enterprises and IT pros. At the very least, the study shows that enterprises have a long way to go to better communicate with potential employees.

The study, Exploring the IT Skills Gap, interviewed 1,200 IT leaders and IT pros to get to the bottom of the issue. Not surprisingly, both IT pros and IT managers agree that the skills gap exists. A full 78% of managers and 80% of IT pros polled acknowledge this gap in IT. Only a third of those surveyed, pro or manager, believe their enterprise has the skills in-house to succeed.

The interesting part is that there is a total disconnect between why employers think they can't fill a job and why employees think they aren't getting a job.

When asked why it was difficult to find quality candidates, the top answers from managers were lack of technical skills (49%), lack of soft skills (21%), and lack of experience (13%).

When workers were asked why they were told they didn't get a job, the answers were all over the map, but only 1 in 4 were told they lacked the technical (20%) or soft skills (5%). The No. 1 answer was that they were overqualified (29%).

How is it possible that 73% of managers say they can't find experienced, skilled workers, while workers say they are told they are overqualified?

Some of it has to do with the mysteries of the job search process, of course. Tell a candidate the real reason he or she didn't get the job, and you give them ammo for a lawsuit. So, partially it's because we're playing this game of poker where the cards aren't really being shown and we're all sort of guessing. It is undignified and unsettling, and with an ever-increasing competition for talent it doesn't seem like the right way to go.

But there's more to it than that. The job search process itself is flawed. Job postings are often vague and not written by anyone who has ever done the job. Job candidates are often sorted first through keyword searches and then by HR pros who don't understand the job. With all due respect to HR pros, how can they be expected to do a good job at this when they are asked to fill a sales job one day and an IT job the next, and they never get to spend any quality time with the hiring managers?

The hiring process at many companies is broken. And to go along with that, no one ever really teaches candidates how to look for jobs. Candidates take classes and certifications in programming languages and skills, not in reading and interpreting job descriptions.

[ How do you navigate the skills gap? Read 3 Tips For Minding The IT Skills Gap. ]

Is it possible that IT leaders aren't doing a very good job at picking the skills they actually need, and that leads to the idea that there is a skills gap? Yes. Perhaps their expectations are simply too high, and they need to change that. In fact, they might already be doing just that.

John Reed, senior executive director for Robert Half Technology, told us in a recent InformationWeek article on rising IT salaries: "Companies have begun to -- I hesitate to say relax their standards -- but to at least adjust their expectations for the skills they can get for the money they had allocated to that role. Companies every day are saying, 'Wow, we wanted a five-year experienced person, but it looks like we'll only get a three-year experienced person.'"

What we might have is less of a skills gap than a communication gap. We don't have the right people with the right skills finding the companies who are a perfect fit for them. And we have companies who don't know how to attract the right people for the job.

Fix the hiring process, and you might just fix the skills gap, or at least reduce the way it affects enterprises. What do you think? Is there a skills gap or a communication gap? Do you find it hard to find the people you need or the job you are looking for? What do you think is the reason? Tell us in the comments section below.