3 Tips For Minding The IT Skills Gap - InformationWeek
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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
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1/14/2015
09:06 AM
Julie Stansbury
Julie Stansbury
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3 Tips For Minding The IT Skills Gap

In the digital enterprise, CIOs must help IT staffers expand their abilities and value soft skills as much as tech acumen.

It's an exciting yet challenging time to be an enterprise CIO. Technology is evolving at breakneck pace, and with each change comes new possibilities for how IT can deliver value to the broader organization.

But amid the Internet of things, big data, cloud computing, and so on, many CIOs are quietly worried that they aren’t prepared to maintain an IT workforce with all the skills necessary to transition to a fully "digital enterprise."

I know many of my CIO counterparts believe this so-called IT skills gap is approaching critical mass. But is the situation really that dire? And is there anything CIOs can do to make sure they find and keep employees with the skills that the company needs most?

While I do believe the modern IT workforce is approaching a critical stage, there are plenty of steps that savvy CIOs can take to make sure their workers are poised for success in the rapidly changing enterprise -- it just requires a subtly different approach to finding and maintaining talent.

[Like any good sports team, your data team needs a common goal and group chemistry. Read How To Build A Data-Driven Dream Team.]

Overall, a shift needs to take place in which soft skills become just as important as nuts-and-bolts technical know-how. Here are my top three considerations for IT leaders hoping to bridge the IT skills gap at their companies:

1. Start early. Become actively involved in building the industry workforce you wish to hire from. Businesses are increasingly partnering with educational institutions to help develop and execute curriculum that's aimed at preparing students for the real world. For the CIO, this could be as simple as STEM education to make sure the future workforce has a strong foundation.

At GE Capital, we have programs that work with students as early as middle school to begin preparing them for bright careers. Not all of them will work at GE Capital, but it's the right thing to do and will help develop a talent pool that we can draw from for years to come.

2. Develop the talent you have. While new talent acquisition is an important part of maintaining a strong workforce, your best ROI will almost always be to develop the talent you already have.

Instead of hiring experts on cloud or big data, for example, CIOs will need to hire and retain people with general tech backgrounds and provide them with the tools they need to become experts in the latest enterprise technology. IT shops should set aside an annual budget for employee training that balances the financial realities of the department with the need to keep employees’ skills up to date. Large organizations may benefit from a formal internal training program, while IT departments with tighter budgets may look to creative options, such as peer trainings in which employees share their knowledge with one another. Whatever your training budget, make sure every dollar spent on professional development addresses skills your organization needs now or will likely need in the future.

It's also important to create career paths that make sense for both the employee and the organization. There are business benefits from internal promotion by reducing the time and cost of external hiring, and internal promotion also helps keep valuable intellectual property in-house. Meanwhile, employees with clear roads toward advancement are more likely to remain at a company and stay motivated to perform at a high level.

3.  Look for the multi-dimensional candidate. When you do seek out external talent, think carefully about what you really need -- not just now, but in the future. Just as technology is changing, the role of the IT employee is also changing and will continue to do so. Instead of hiring candidates with specific tech skills or knowledge, it will instead be important to look for talented people who have general technical knowledge but who also have soft skills such as communication, leadership, and ambition. For example, if there are two candidates, one with more ambition and another with deeper experience in cloud computing, I’ll hire the ambitious candidate every time. The thinking is that the candidate with the right attitude will be able to learn cloud, and will also stand ready to learn whatever new disciplines the future holds.

In the long run, having an IT staff with diverse skills will be critical for IT taking a larger role in the business. The specifics of new technologies will change, but skills like leadership and ambition will only grow in importance.

In short, the sky is not falling: CIOs can find ways to prepare their workforces for the challenges of the digital enterprise. However, CIOs and other IT leaders must understand that now is the time to think critically about where IT is headed, and the kind of workforce they'll need to realize that vision. By focusing on finding the right kind of people, with a foundation of technical knowledge and the right soft skills, CIOs can ensure they have workers who can shift gears and adapt to changing technology.

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Julie Stansbury is Chief Information Officer for GE Capital Treasury. She took on this role in October 2011 and is responsible for driving the technology strategy of Treasury, providing a leadership role in the day-to-day operations of all information technology functions. View Full Bio
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MarcusF786
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MarcusF786,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/25/2015 | 5:53:45 PM
Both old and new
I agree especially with keeping the current talent on board. There's a lot of change in the IT Industry right now, but that's no reason to start hiring anew. It's a better idea to get a good mix of old and new and then work form there.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 5:17:56 AM
Re: Huge area of need
@pfretty: I think the main problem is with the investment, organizations haven't started investing in the data analytics as much as it requires. Some of the organizations are waiting to see the effects this technology has brought into their business before making major decisions and investments. Unless they will invest more, they won't be able to key accomplishments from analytics tasks
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 5:11:19 AM
Re: Measuring ambition
@SunitaT0: you cannot hire all the candidates who are best in leading or making decisions. Because everyone will grow with the passage of time and the all will cannot be accommodated in the limited seats at senior positions. So all resources with similar qualities can also be a problem sometime.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 5:07:18 AM
Re: IT graduates
@shamika: that a lot depends upon the job market conditions, if the market is at boom than hiring a fresh graduate will solve the purpose but retaining them be another headache.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2015 | 2:04:01 AM
Re: Measuring ambition
@Sunita I think this is why we have the HR manager during the interview process. They are more capable in understanding people better.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2015 | 2:00:52 AM
Re: Point #2 is an important one
@Henschen, I agree with you. We have done a similar thing. An individual who worked as a developer was prompted to Data Warehouse Engineer after identifying his talents.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2015 | 1:57:16 AM
IT graduates
"Start Early" is a good initiative. IT firms can hire fresh IT graduates as Interns and see how they perform in their role. If it is satisfactory they can always absorb them as permanent employees.

 
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2015 | 2:00:42 PM
Re: Measuring ambition
"How do you assess soft skills like ambition during the interview process? Communication and even leadership should be evident in the resume and even during the interview, but how do you measure a person's ambition? By their enthusiasm? By their rehearsed answer to where do you want to be in 5 years?"

@kstaron: Ambitious candidates are always preffered because ambition leads to better profits for the company. I know many people who hold patents for their parent company and they were selected only because they had some crazy ideas for development in the company. Ambition is necessary. If a candidate agrees to whatever the interviewers throw at him then that shows the candidate is unfit to make his/her own decisions.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2015 | 1:50:58 PM
Re: Point #2 is an important one
@sachinEE: I agree. Conducting tests would guarantee the skill level of employees on the increase. Another kind of practise could be out-house practise. It generally works out well when managed and judged by a member of the management. The thing is, to understand teamwork better, rouge team-members are paired with team playing members into achieving a real life physical project, game-style. The excercises can be varied. I've seen one relay race between two teams, the only thing is, there is no baton. The relay race uses humans to be carried off by their team members, and there the employee is the baton. That needs teamwork, and their learned practices can come in handy while dealing with project issues inside the company.
pfretty
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pfretty,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2015 | 12:21:59 PM
Huge area of need
How organizations approach this need will ultimately define their success in years to come. While its true there is a dire need for data scientists today, we also need to invest heavily in building a stronger base for the analytical culture needed for big data success. This was echoed in a recent IDG survey, which showed that the vast majority of organizations rate poorly their ability to accomplish key data analytic tasks.

 

Peter Fretty, IDG blogger working on behalf of SAS
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