The skills deficit is still holding the UK back from economic recovery. Blame is still being laid at the door of universities, government, employers and even employees. It was interesting to read that IT employers should take their share of responsibility for ending the IT skills shortage by investing in training young people, to help close that skills gap.
The skills gap in today’s workforce is an issue that doesn’t seem to be diminishing, especially across the IT industry. Whilst some companies do embrace the idea of “on the job” IT training and apprenticeships, I strongly believe that UK business leaders should be doing more to create those opportunities for staff to achieve real excellence, during their “on the job” training. This, in turn, will help boost the quality of the workforce.
Skills are important for a number of reasons. For individuals, skills are crucial in terms of how much you earn, and as an important driver of social mobility. For technology firms, a more skilled workforce equals a more motivated workforce, which is better for productivity and the quality of customer service. Finally, having a skilled workforce is important for the wider economy and national economic competitiveness.
However, the skills needed in IT are evolving. In the past, IT practitioners needed to have an appreciation of an IT system, in its entirety, to hold down a job. The latest generation can get by with sound knowledge of the upper layers of the IT stack and leave all the nuts and bolts stuff to those that really care, such as cloud providers, co-location operator and telecoms firms.
It seems that many end user organisations, however, consider these knowledge assets as commodities, and merely process orientated, which are cheaply and readily found and replaced.
The more recent workforce is required to focus higher up the IT chain, as applications and services are now available at a click of a button and are very easy to use. These services are consumed on a range of devices and often dropped quickly. The skills and disciplines of this new IT worker breed centre around knowing what applications are out there, how to get them and how to use them quickly and efficiently on behalf of an organisation.
Whilst there are clearly many benefits to a more consumer IT model of this type, the challenge of managing and integrating these services into the enterprise lies with a diminishing IT workforce. They are required to look at the longer-term vision of the enterprise architecture, security, integration and building a cohesive IT business strategy. This approach will then allow applications and services to be consumed readily, and more importantly fit the long-term strategy for both the IT team and business as a whole.
Filling these more strategic roles, such as systems architects, programme managers and business analysts is harder, as often these roles are developed in an organisation over time and honed by experience and exposure to real problems. As a result these staff are hard to buy off-the-shelf, hard to find ready-trained by third parties, and, in short, just hard to find.
This is creating an ever-widening gap for businesses that want all the facets of running IT services, based on self-service and consumption models, which feel cloudy. However, the challenge is that there is a diminishing workforce that can cope with these complex levels of integration across the numerous systems involved with making enterprise platforms “cloudy” but strategically right for the business.
I strongly believe that graduate investment in IT must be a priority. My company invests time and money to training its graduates and works hard to integrate them with seasoned professionals to give them the industry exposure they need to deliver the right and best customer solution and quality of customer service.
This over time, will contribute to plugging the skills gap. This is the world that the new workforce is used to and expects to operate in. Skills are a fundamental driver of performance and profitability. Real Capex investments, and spending real mentoring time with these interested and ambitious youngsters, are what the IT industry needs to deliver more of, if businesses are going to thrive in today’s competitive business environment.