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4 Ways to Bridge Your IT Department’s Skills Gap

Selena Ricks-Good
Posted by: Selena Ricks-Good on Aug 18, 2017 12:30:00 PM
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Digital transformation requires a tech talent strategy

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Tech jobs, along with healthcare, are the most in-demand in the U.S. economy. While that might sound great for those in the field or planning to be, the talent pool in tech is far from capable of meeting the need. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be 1.4 million more software development jobs than applicants who can fill them by 2020.

The challenge today is that many businesses that are hiring tech-related positions are companies that wouldn’t classify themselves as traditional tech companies. Software developers are the most in-demand role among employers, with nearly 61,000 job postings in July 2017, according to CompTIA. Enterprises’ expanding use of cloud-based services and the Internet of Things (IoT) reflect this growth.

Another recent survey from CompTIA reveals that organizations find it especially difficult to hire qualified candidates for technology positions related to the IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies, as well as cloud infrastructure and apps, and cyber-security. Given that most executives think that technology should play a primary role in achieving business objectives, IT departments are under increasing pressure to land needed talent in a highly competitive job market.

Industry and government groups are increasingly offering education and resources to address the tech worker shortage. Here are some strategies for business leaders to consider as they tackle a talent gap:

Implement a Robust Internship or Apprenticeship Program

Leading companies are partnering with colleges and universities to offer internships and apprenticeships to provide on-the-job training to students. Typically, the company assigns the student a mentor, arranges a schedule, and pays the student for the work they do. Apprenticeships are more structured and long-term than internships, and upon completion apprentice students usually receive certification and are fully proficient for the job. Mission Data has found its targeted internship programs with George Washington University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Johns Hopkins University to be one of the best ways to recruit diverse new hires. Those mentoring the interns’ skills development benefit from improved capabilities as well.

New training programs such as TechHire and LaunchCode are also stepping up tech job training, especially in rural areas. These nonprofits provide accelerated coding instruction to low-skilled individuals and partners with employers to provide them real-world training. Participants receive a stipend and a majority are hired and receive liveable salaries after they finish the program. By providing a clear pipeline for people seeking tech jobs, companies build loyalty, increase productivity, and build a more diverse talent pool.

Make Inclusion a Priority

A number of efforts are underway to shrink the diversity and gender gaps in tech, particularly in Silicon Valley. General Electric has set a goal to have 20,000 women in STEM roles throughout the company by 2020 and achieve a 50:50 representation in all technical entry-level programs. Similarly, Oracle has invested $3 million to educate girls in STEM fields through the government’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative. Even Google, where gender and diversity-related issues erupted a few weeks ago, has invested nearly $50 million to teach young girls how to code.

Smaller businesses may not be able to take on diversity as aggressively, but those that enact diversity initiatives in hiring decisions and recruitment efforts are finding success. According to data from McKinsey, companies with a gender diverse workforce typically outperform their counterparts by 15 percent, while companies with an ethnically diverse workforce typically outperform their counterparts by 35 percent. Encouraging a broader workforce makes companies’ work culture more attractive to senior talent, as Etsy discovered when it invested in training more women.

HopHacks Rekognition.pngMembers of the Mission Data team at HopHacks

Encourage Employees to Take the Initiative

Given the dynamic nature of tech, savvy employees are constantly upskilling themselves to stay relevant and competitive. Businesses can further motivate self-led training by adopting policies such as offering employees yearly stipends for training and development, dedicated hours for online courses, and even the flexibility to take sabbaticals, more in-depth courses, and workshops. Company-hosted hackathons and industry development events are other ways to encourage innovation, collaboration, and foster community. At Mission Data, members of our team serve as mentors at Hop Hacks, and we have sponsored coding events with Louisville’s Civic Data Alliance.

Of course, not every company is eager to devote paid time for learning and development on the job. American employers complain about the difficulties they face finding qualified workers, but do not seem eager to invest in upskilling the labor force. According to the Alliance of American Manufacturing, the U.S. trails all its industrial competitors in public and private spending on training. They may worry about ‘free riders,’ firms that will scoop up the workers they have paid to train. Yet studies show workforce training boosts employee engagement and retention, and should be considered a worthwhile investment to keep companies agile and moving forward.

Innovation Lab Post (Richard).jpegUsing the HoloLens in our Lab

Create an Innovation Lab

Here at Mission Data, we introduced an innovation lab in 2015 to make sure our team stays on top of emerging tech trends. Executives and technologists work together to choose ongoing projects that will help the team drive business goals, better understand trends, and experiment for deeper learning. Working incrementally in one- to two-week sprints, we keep the focus on rapid experimentation without disrupting the team’s client-facing work. Recent projects have our team working with facial recognition technology, 3D mapping, virtual reality (VR), beacons, and voice technology, just to name a few. By touching and exploring advanced technology, we fuel our passion and reconnect with the magic and wonder of what the latest tools and methods can do.

By continuously innovating, companies are able to respond to market demands and bring high-quality products and services to market more quickly. A DIY effort can also be essential in establishing a workforce culture where IT teams are business-minded and vice versa. Shared knowledge empowers employees and fosters learning as a core aspect of coming to work every day.

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