How To Close The IT Skills Gap - InformationWeek

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How To Close The IT Skills Gap

Year Up director to discuss program that teaches tech skills to Bay Area students and helps them get industry jobs at E2 Innovate conference.

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You have a BYOD business and now you need a help desk that can help with Windows, Apple, Android smartphone hiccups. Good luck with that. You have cast your IT infrastructure to the clouds and now you need someone who can link your in-house financial app to your cloud-based CRM. Good luck with that. And you want to use Big Data to tie your customer data with big bank credit data, weather data and U.S. Census population, and demographic trend data. Sure you do.

The skills gap among technology professionals and their company's business aspirations is morphing into an opportunity gap as good ideas lie fallow for want of the technology professionals to turn plans into products.

"Companies in the [San Francisco] Bay Area are looking for talent and not finding the right match," says Jay Banfield, the founding executive director of Year Up in the Bay Area. Year Up is an intensive one-year training program designed to take disadvantaged students and prepare them for beginning technology careers. Banfield will be hosting a keynote panel on "Innovating the Skills Divide" at the E2 Innovate conference scheduled for Nov. 12-15 in Santa Clara. He will be joined by some of the Bay Area's top technology executives including Matthew Zeier, senior director of IT for Mozilla>, Debra Chrapaty, CIO of Zynga and Tim Campos, CIO of Facebook.

In surveys, business organizations are finding a profound technology skills gap. In its "State of the IT Skills Gap," published earlier this year, the CompTIA organization found that in the U.S., "The great majority of employers (93%) indicate there is an overall skills gap, the difference between existing and desired skill levels, among their IT staff."

[ Some IT jobs are opening up in Michigan. Read GM To Hire 1,500 IT Pros In Michigan. ]

And that gap, according to the CompTIA study, is hurting business with, "Most (80%) organizations indicate their IT skills gap affects at least one business area such as staff productivity (41%), customer service/customer engagement (32%), and security (31%).

One of the more curious aspects of the onrush of new technologies and the tech skills gap is that in the current economic and political climate where a stubborn unemployment percentage of about 8% (a percentage that has become a political cause celebre), tech jobs are going unfilled. "We are creating unfilled jobs. We have a shortage. This shortage is going to get worse. It's a problem that's approaching dimensions of a genuine crisis," Microsoft Counsel Brad Smith told a Brooking Institution panel recently. Smith contended that the U.S. economy is producing 120,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) jobs each year, yet U.S. colleges are only producing one-third of the needed degree students in the STEM fields.

Year Up is one organization that aims to help close the technology gap through a one-year intensive technology, business, and career development course for disadvantaged students with the goal of preparing them for entry level positions in tech support, quality assurance, and data center operations. The organization has more than 3,500 alumni and a remarkable success rate: 100% of qualified students are placed in internships, 95% of interns meet or exceed expectations, 84% are employed full time or are in college within four months of graduation, and the average hourly wage of $15 for graduates is far above the minimum wage level.

"We saw the need for a creative way to develop a pipeline of talent" says Banfield. Creating a program that equips Year Up students with the talents to make themselves appealing to employers has been fundamental in the program's success in the Bay Area. Twenty-four companies including some of the area's marquis names (Facebook, LinkedIn, Salesforce, eBay among them) are taking part in the Year Up internship and hiring programs.

While the technology skills are important, business, presentation, and social skills are also vital pieces of the Year Up program, says Banfield.

Closing the skills gap, forecasts of what skills will be required in the future, and how to restructure educational and business training programs to fill that gap will be the subject of Banfield's keynote panel at this year's inaugrual E2 Innovate event.

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Mark Montgomery
Mark Montgomery,
User Rank: Strategist
10/11/2012 | 8:56:32 PM
re: How To Close The IT Skills Gap
The entire approach is wrong in the U.S. - it isn't about degrees and shouldn't be - that's essentially a guild system for what has become a hyper competitive global economy, and is obviously a very big part of the problem. We are competing with countries and regions operating at a fraction of our cost basis and delivering better education AND training at a much lower cost, delivering better healthcare at a much lower cost, much less expensive legal system, and increasingly more functional government-- all at much lower costs while the U.S. has been dropping off the cliff in most of the relevant ratings.

So we need to start asking the unpopular questions and more important delivering the answers that have already been demonstrated to work. To highlight just how dysfunctional our political system is in the U.S. today - the financial crisis was caused in part by monetary policy in response to not fixing structural problems much earlier (Greenspan in his book paraphrase "we looked to housing to save the economy" - post 9/11), but no one ever quite got around to the long-term problems, including the past four years when record amounts of 'stimulus', QE 1, 2, and now infinity.

Now every country must differentiate and play to its strengths, and the U.S. has a lot of them, but the Germans went through something actually quite similar a decade+ earlier, adopting programs that require industrial training tied to actual demand for unemployment or other gov't assistance, a focus on advanced trade craft and skills rather than just liberal education, many of which in the U.S. became party schools and degrees meaningless while costs soared and empires expanded. Some of the programs are fine- community colleges, etc., but we've borrowed 6 trillion $ in four years and 5 trillion $ in previous admin, the vast majority of which not only didn't begin to solve the structural problems facing the U.S. relative to competitiveness, but in many cases protects the very source of the problem - incomes continue to fall, real unemployment is in double digits, and real cost of living continues to climb.

As for MSFT - they have been investing $10 billion+ per year on R&D consistently. Why on earth haven't they and others invested in training and create the type of products my late partner did with others in a very small group at MS that still creates almost all of the profit 30 years later? Are they really a good source for a quote on this challenge given their own very well known challenges in innovation? The MS of 1980-1985 would have been (Look at what Bill and Steve were saying then--quite a different story).

The early MS well understood that big (then Blue) isn't necessarily beautiful and often isn't. This would be a very good place to restart this conversation in America where our culture's response to too big to fail was additional consolidation. Whatever well we've been drinking from is causing an awful lot of dysfunction and disease -- we best start seeking new sources while we still have time -- just as Germany did -- their specific solutions won't work for us, but they worked incredibly well for them -- we should follow a similar process and develop a tailored plan, before it's literally too late.
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