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6 Ways to Bridge the IT Skills Gap

EducationA recent study finds that a whopping 93% of businesses indicate there is an IT skills gap–a substantial shortfall between the supply of qualified IT professionals and the demand for modern IT skills. As technology evolves at breakneck speed, this IT skills gap is widening. Businesses are having more and more trouble finding IT pros with the modern skills they require–and the problem is only growing worse.

The big(ger) problem: The same study finds that the importance of information technology to a company’s overall success is growing. In other words, as technology becomes more important, finding employees with modern technology skills is becoming more challenging.

The real difficulty: Your company must address this skills gap while staying current with the ever-changing tech trends. After all, your business won’t stop and wait while you fix the skills gap. The competition won’t take a timeout while you search for modern skills. You must bridge the IT skills gap while operating at full speed.

How can companies deal with the shortage of qualified IT pros and developers? Outside of outsourcing everything or bringing in high-priced consultants, how can your company bridge this growing skills gap while remaining competitive?

Today, I’d like to focus on a few ways to address this IT skills gap in your company. How can your company stay on the cutting edge of technology in the midst of a skills gap? Here are 6 ways:

1. Look beyond the right “skills”

While skills and education are important in bringing in talented employees, perhaps a better attribute is the potential employee’s desire to learn. What skills have they learned outside of school? How do they seek to improve themselves? You’ll never bridge the skills gap if you bring in people who won’t learn new skills.

“Hiring managers should sort through resumes and look for the candidates that they think demonstrate both a solid aptitude for specific -related- technologies, as well as the highest potential for learning new skills,” says Jordan Goldman, Marketing Director of QuadraNet, Inc. “Often, selecting resumes based on the applicant listing a specific skill that may be relevant to your business is actually the -worst- way to go about the hiring process, as many applicants are under the very common misconception that listing more skills is more likely to land you a job than describing why the skills you actually possess are important or describing how they were acquired.”

Going one step further, Siobhan Green, Co-owner and CEO of Sonjara, Inc., explains below how she found some of her best employees through unorthodox avenues. She also shares why attitude and intellect trump candidates with “perfect” resumes.

“Some of my best hires were smart people who had gotten off the traditional education/job track – one was driving a bread delivery truck and now he is managing our QA department; the other was cleaning my house, and now she runs her own IT firm after working for me for four years (and we outsource a big chunk of our WordPress work to her).”

“These are people who don’t have degrees but who have taught themselves how to work in tech are often much more valuable than people who have the “perfect” resume, but not the drive to learn and teach themselves,” she says. “We look for people who have the right attitude, intellect, and personality, and know that we can often fill in the rest. I want someone who loves what they do and would probably do it anyway rather than someone who got a degree in CS because it ‘pays well’.”

2. Incentivize education

Hiring those who want to learn is the first step in bridging the skills gap. After that, you must give your employees the ability to learn modern skills. How? You can provide them with learning resources, give them time to take online courses, or set up programs to fund their education.

photo credit: jarmoluk via pixabay cc
photo credit: jarmoluk via pixabay cc

“One way to curb the lack of qualified IT professionals is to incentivize continued education for your IT employees,” says Katy Imhoff, President of Camden Kelly Corporation. “Hire IT professionals with a curiosity and passion for working with the latest and greatest technologies, then help them grow their skills! These incentives can range from sending them to tech conferences, paying for classes at a local or online university, and even MOOCs (most of which are free).”

3. Bring new skills to your current team

If you’re having trouble finding employees with modern skills, try approaching the opposite side of the problem: Bring modern skills to your current team. After all, your employees already know your business–which eliminates the onboarding time and expense of bringing in new talent.

As mentioned above, proper education is one way to accomplish this goal, but what about skills that take years to master? What happens if you need modern solutions today, but don’t have the time to train your employees? In these instances, you can bring modern skills to your current team in the form of tools.

“Giving employees modern tools can often bridge the skills gap faster than bringing in new employees,” says Tyler Wassell, Software Development Manager at mrc. “Take web application development for example. Modern web development requires skills in web security, cloud architecture, responsive design, javascript, API integration, and more. Rather than bringing in different developers with different skillsets or trying to learn all of these skills on the fly, companies are opting for development platforms–which bring modern development skills to their current team.”

4. Look for talent at local universities

photo credit: vald3rr4m via pixabay cc
photo credit: vald3rr4m via pixabay cc

Companies in larger markets obviously have a larger pool of potential employees to choose from. In smaller markets, however, companies must get creative. How? As explained below, one such option for those in small markets involve finding talent in local universities, and working with those institutions to ensure students are learning the right skills.

“Finding qualified candidates to fill positions in our Cheyenne headquarters can be especially challenging,” explains Cortney Thompson, CTO of Green House Data. “Because we are a support-driven company, as we’ve grown we’ve had to get creative to find the IT skills we need. We work with both Laramie County Community College and the University of Wyoming. The [Industrial Affiliates at UW program] guarantees we get the first chance to give job offers to graduates. Myself and Art Salazar, our data center manager, also do some consulting with the computer science departments at both schools, to ensure that their programs are in line with current industry trends and that graduates are learning real world useful skills.”

5. Change your attitude towards acquiring and retaining talent

For many companies, finding new talent falls on the HR department’s shoulders. So, if there’s a skills gap, it’s HR’s problem…right? In reality, talent acquisition should be a high-level effort. As explained below, if great talent is key to a great business, then it must be a priority for management.

“The solution comes down to a change in attitude from employers,” says Ira Wolfe, President of Success Performance Solutions. “Recruiting extra-ordinary talent requires extra-ordinary leadership. Recruiting in many companies is still considered an HR task. With strategies on hold and growth plans stalled, recruitment should be a high priority management function. HR may implement it but management needs to lead it. Just like they seek out and innovate for new business opportunities, they need to change the way they acquire and retain employees. As Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”

6. Offer flexibility with location and hours

Bridging the skills gap is a two part process. First, you must attract great talent. Second, you must retain that talent. As this article explains, many companies fail at the second part. How can you retain your skilled employees? Offering flexibility is a great place to start.

“Some positions need to be available traditional working hours and at the office,” says Green. “But in IT, few do. And if someone wants to come in the office for the morning, be home with their kids when they get off the bus and make up the rest of the hours in the evening (when, btw, a lot of development/testing/deployment actually occurs), fantastic. Get your work done when and where you need to get it done, and we are all good.”

So, what do you think? Would you add anything to that list? If you’d like to add more ways to bridge the IT skills gap, I’d love to hear them in the comments.