Three ways to bridge the IT skills gap in a post-pandemic world

In decades past, most IT departments would have had enough in-house skills to help the business keep pace with innovation, but digital transformation has changed everything. A report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in 2019 found that employers struggled to fill around a third of vacancies due to a lack of digital skills among applicants. Many organisations, in a bid to keep up with change, are carrying out large digital transformation projects. Covid-19 is also forcing the hand of many companies, with a rush to declare themselves “digital first” as employees continue working remotely.

If organisations are to digitalise successfully and arm a dispersed workforce with the tech they need to keep functioning, they will need the skills to match. But as IT departments accelerate digitalisation, the gap is widening when it comes to the skill sets required of IT employees. At the same time, many CIOs are dealing with smaller budgets due to the economic uncertainty Covid-19 has created. Some have seen hiring freezes and may even have to reduce headcounts, making the skills challenge even more acute as we look to 2021.

Changing skills needs

New environments require new expertise. When it comes to cloud, for example, the challenge of building, maintaining and monitoring a complex cloud infrastructure is often beyond the capabilities or knowhow of existing staff. Moreover, the technology landscape shifts so often that many teams simply can’t keep up. According to Gartner, a majority (80%) of today’s workers feel they don’t have the skills required for their current role and future career. Compounding the issue, 53% of business leaders struggle to find candidates with the right abilities during the hiring process.

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There are many ways to address the skills challenge, from government-led apprenticeship programmes to organisations investing in internal training and development, but the three options most commonly in use are: hiring new staff; developing them in-house; or finding a partner to plug the gaps.

  1. Finding the right person: Hiring new talent may seem like the first, most obvious solution. This enables organisations to pinpoint the type of candidate they require, and only interview those that will fulfil that need. However, hiring externally is made more difficult when looking for more niche capabilities, and it certainly costs more. The pool of potential candidates is extremely small when recruiting for roles that demand advanced IT skills, like cloud-native orchestration, SAP expertise or DevOps, and organisations end up paying a premium. Another obstacle when looking to hire skills from outside is that next year’s IT budgets are likely to be reduced thanks to Covid-19. While it isn’t wrong to hire new team members to support your existing IT team, and it will indeed be the right choice in certain situations, it certainly isn’t the only answer.
  2. Looking inwards: The World Economic Forum has estimated that 54% of workers will need significant digital reskilling by 2022, and so supplying staff with training now to advance their skillset can be a great way to bridge the gap. It will also pay off in the future. The benefits of upskilling include reduced strain on individual employees, less cost and resource drain for training new staff, and boosting collaboration. However, training is essential to upskilling, which can take up a lot of extra resource. Not only will organisations need to find a skills champion internally willing to train others or find outside help, but the existing team also may not have capacity to juggle their workloads and new training. Even after training staff, they won’t be experts and will need starter projects to practise what they’ve learned.
  3. Working with the right partner: While upskilling and hiring can help futureproof a business in the long term, it doesn’t solve an immediate need. Another avenue open to organisations is finding a partner that can plug the gaps for an immediate response to a need. Outsourcing IT can save a lot of time and resource, and enable projects to move ahead faster. Businesses don’t have to spend hours interviewing potential candidates or upskilling employees each time they take on a new digital transformation project and need a specific skill. In addition, IT teams are able to focus on carrying out their day-to-day roles to the highest standard, without having to tackle unfamiliar or new tasks.

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Closing the IT skills gap is only going to become more complicated in a post-pandemic world. As organisations pursue a digital-first future, a reliable and highly-skilled IT workforce is crucial. Whether business leaders opt to hire-in, upskill or outsource, a clear roadmap needs to be developed that encompasses where skills gaps are and how they can be addressed, to ultimately support organisations in their digital transformation endeavours.

Written by Written by Zak Virdi, UK managing director at SoftwareONE

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