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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SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
1/19/2015 | 1:27:32 PM
Re: Point #2 is an important one
@SaneIT: All the same. A training under the canopy of a company really helps a lot, especially for the freshers. Moreover there can be tests conducted on a regular basis to know exactly who needs training and who doesn't.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
1/19/2015 | 1:20:32 PM
Re: Measuring ambition
@kstaron: Having spend a fair amount of time in my company's interview board I can tell you that ambition (or the show of it) leaks out from the candidate through the various questions an interviewer asks. Most interviewers prefer to know something from the candidate that is not the well rehearsed "where do you want to see yourself in 5 years" question's answer. Most candidates speak their minds through spontaniety and this spontaneity is very importnat for the interviewers to make a decision on the candidate.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
1/17/2015 | 10:44:29 AM
Measuring ambition
As a person with a background in training I whole-heartedly agree that developing in house talent with training is a win-win for the company. I always jumped at a chance to learn something new as part of my job. And allowing employess to expand their skills can often help keep their work exciting.  

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? 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
1/15/2015 | 8:17:36 AM
Re: Point #2 is an important one
I think in some instances our microwave world has made us forget that people are capable of learning new skills.  I know that I would much rather train someone up from my team to take a higher level position and back fill the lower level position than try to find someone who will fit into our team at a higher level.  Once someone has established themselves and you know how they work, what motivates them and what they are capable of it's much less risky to move them up than to hope the person sitting across from you at an interview isn't just telling you all the things you want to hear.  I also think it builds team morale, knowing that if a position opens up that they have a chance to grow makes them want to work on new skills.  If you keep hiring from the outside then people stop trying and they just settle into the box you've locked them into.
Alan85
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Alan85,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/15/2015 | 1:37:58 AM
Re: Point #2 is an important one
I think the above three are valuable tips for minding the IT Skills gap. It helps in developing industry specific information technology skills for employees to excel ahead in their fields. Thanks for the post for all readers.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
1/14/2015 | 5:25:37 PM
Re: Point #2 is an important one
I agree that companies would be better off educating current employees than searching for new ones. Not only will the organizations benefit from having workers familiar with their data, but I'm sure that employees will be more loyal to businesses that support their career development.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2015 | 4:22:13 PM
Point #2 is an important one
Developing the talent you have is a hugely important point. People want career development and need a path to growth. Big data and analytics, for example, is an area where companies often think they have to go out there and find "data scientists," but I've seen many cases where data-management types are simply recasting themselves with new titles. Data-management talent is hard enough to come by and new platforms like Hadoop and NoSQL aren't rocket science. Maybe if you're getting into a very technical area requiring real expertise, like advanced analytics and prediction, you'll want to seek out new talent. But first and foremost, find ways to make the most of the talent you already have in place. These people understand your data and your business, and that's half the battle.
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