Enterprise technologies continue to grow more sophisticated to meet new business needs, and as a result, technical job roles are expanding in number and complexity around the globe. Some companies are successfully recruiting the tech professionals they need to deploy and manage their most important applications and infrastructure. But for many others, they’re facing a tech labor shortage that’s hurting their businesses.
What solutions are available to companies that need both short-term and long-term fixes for their tech workforce shortages? Rob Kim, VP of Technology Strategy at Presidio, a global digital services and solutions provider, believes that a mixture of automation, training, and outsourcing can help. Read on to learn more about Kim’s and Presidio’s strategies for combatting tech labor shortages and skill gaps in this exclusive interview with CIO Insight.
Tech workforce trends and the tech labor shortage
CIO Insight: Why are labor shortages having such a noticeable impact on the tech industry?
Kim: Before the pandemic, we had already seen shortages in labor, specific to technology. If you look at any census reading, CompTIA typically produces a lot of survey results on this, but, in some cases, other sectors had higher unemployment rates, whereas the tech sector was low and in some cases negative. I think we were always behind in terms of investing in our people resources to make sure that we had enough labor on the front side.
And the other thing is, for the way most modern technologies have to be implemented, there’s a level of experience that’s required. It’s not even as easy as saying ‘well, we’ll start with some junior-level people, train them, utilize them, and move them up.’ Now, I do think that there are some digital trends that have been going more towards democratizing what we do in the application and data space, and that’s helped.
But the pandemic definitely exacerbated all of that, because at the end of the day, what we saw was organizations that didn’t stop spending money on technology. They spent more, and in droves. And in many cases, they had to spend that money because if they didn’t, they would be out of business.
So what are your options? We’ve really looked at two options for organizations that are not in our business: one, you build a contingent workforce that sits outside of full-time employees within your organization. So that involves more outsourcing, more service partners, more use of managed and operational services from outside entities. And then the second one is to really modernize what you’re doing on your technology front, including taking advantage of hyperautomation; not only task-oriented automation, but process automation, especially when it comes to data.
Learn more about hyperautomation from Enterprise Networking Planet: Top Hyperautomation Software Tools
Finding technology partners to support your goals
CIO Insight: What types of business and infrastructure management work can or should be outsourced to a professional or managed services partner?
Kim: You would think that the things that are typically outsourced are more of the mid-level or entry-level tasks, the things that the business will say, ‘oh, those are commoditized, so I can just outsource that.’ The interesting thing though is, in this fight for talent, there’s a level of experience and knowledge that you need to have in order to be able to accomplish some of these very disruptive changes in technology initiatives.
“The interesting thing though is, in this fight for talent, there’s a level of experience and knowledge that you need to have in order to be able to accomplish some of these very disruptive changes in technology initiatives.”
Those are the people that are moving: the enterprise architects, the lead developers, the DevOps director that built the systems, because those are the sought-after resources. And so what we have seen is a rise of requests and demand for those types of resources, which we never really thought would happen.
Things that were more untouchable before, that idea of ‘whoever’s going to drive my strategy needs to be a full time employee,’ that’s gone. And now it’s, ‘well, I lost my person and I still have to execute against this, so let me at least align to a partner I can trust to provide me with help based on the requirements that I have.’ We’re seeing more and more of our clients that are not only open to, but in some cases, looking at that as the first option in terms of how they fill some of those more strategic level projects.
“Especially when you look at mainframe and some of these older technologies, people coming out of school aren’t being trained on these platforms. You’re seeing more and more people that have that knowledge base retire.”
And then, from a managed service perspective, legacy applications management can be outsourced. Especially when you look at mainframe and some of these older technologies, people coming out of school aren’t being trained on these platforms. You’re seeing more and more people that have that knowledge base retire. That’s putting a lot of stressors on organizations to either throw a lot of compensation at them in order to keep them or make some more unnatural decisions around keeping that operational capability in-house.
Now, we’re seeing that they’re responding in two ways: one, by saying ‘we should outsource that completely.’ And then two, ‘we need to get off mainframe and these legacy platforms, because they’re also stifling our ability to actually innovate and scale all the good stuff we’re developing.’
Rethink your legacy infrastructure: Developing a Cloud Modernization Strategy: Interview with Moti Rafalin of vFunction
CIO Insight: What should businesses look for when they are looking to partner with some of those external partners?
Kim: I would say, if you work with a partner, the thing you want to gain is the fact that they understand your business intimately. They also understand all your warts intimately. And when you get that combination, assuming that they have all of the technical know-how, they’re always going to design solutions with consideration to not only the technologies they’re deploying but also the people process, the operational impact, and all those pieces so that you don’t feel like anything was missing.
Learn about a partner that specializes in manufacturing: How SaaS Transforms Manufacturing: Interview with Oliver Haya at Rockwell Automation
Using automation and technology to fill employment gaps
CIO Insight: What job tasks can companies automate or otherwise reform for less direct human management?
Kim: I would say any repetitive human task can be automated, and then I’m not talking about the simple ones that we can do through standard automation. That’s task-oriented automation, like scripting, that most people are already working on. Ansible, Puppet, and Chef, whether you’re talking about declarative- or imperative-based automation, those are simple kinds of if-then-else scripting. But there are a ton of other repetitive tasks that people do all the time.
Financial institutions that are doing month-end close and the person that’s pulling all the data together is doing so in a spreadsheet and Power BI, or Power Pivot tables, and things of that sort. They seem to do this activity at the end of every week, or every month, and it takes them five to six hours to do. And yet, we can apply robotic process automation or data monetization techniques to accomplish that goal that took five or six hours in literally seconds.
Reskilling and upskilling your current workforce for tech roles
CIO Insight: What should business leaders be doing to upskill, reskill, and expand the responsibilities of the tech professionals who already work with them? What training and development opportunities should be emphasized?
Kim: First, I would say, as an organization, you have to sit down and think about the skill set you’re currently missing that’s causing the most delay in project delivery. And what we’ve found more than anything else is it’s the front-end strategy and blueprinting; it’s not the deep specialist work.
Does that mean that there should be more emphasis on cross-training individuals across a broad set of IT capabilities? I cannot have a networking discussion without talking about security, or talking about the impact of that connectivity for an end-user that’s now working from home, right? And so everything is connected.
“You can’t just say, ‘well, my piece is okay,’ because what does that matter if the result is bad service? So the broader experience and knowledge would be what I would aim for versus focused training for a particular specialty.”
You can’t just say, ‘well, my piece is okay,’ because what does that matter if the result is bad service? So the broader experience and knowledge would be what I would aim for versus focused training for a particular specialty.
Now, that’s for most organizations. There are some companies that specialize in certain areas, so obviously, you would want that level of depth. But I do think that there should be more stress placed on developing the general contractor, so to speak, than maybe the more detailed specialist, because by and large, you can find and outsource to service partners to help deliver against the blueprint. If I give you a design sheet, I can find somebody to execute against it. But how do I know that’s the right design sheet? You don’t want to screw that up.
Not sure how to upskill your workforce? Follow this IT certification roadmap.
Consequences of and solutions for the tech labor shortage
CIO Insight: What are the consequences of a perpetually understaffed tech team?
Kim: First, it would be just poor service levels. That’s probably the biggest impact to the IT teams and users. The other thing is burnout.
Short-term, people work harder to fill team gaps—that’s understandable. And if you work for an organization that is at least working towards fixing that, then people are more apt to stay. But if you have an apathetic organization that’s saying, ‘so and so left, and you guys seem to be carrying the slack, so we’re good,’ don’t be surprised when more people leave because those stressors are there.
The alternate company response is, ‘hey, we lost this individual, and while that’s no good, I want to understand the particular stressors we’ll face when trying to provide the same level of service and what I can do to be your advocate to figure it out.’
If there’s collaboration with organizational leadership and the tech team, that’s an optimal situation. But I think everybody is so busy with stuff that sometimes we just operate to the point where people get burnout and leave.
Read more about fighting burnout: Improving Culture and Community in Remote Work: An Interview with Anna Dearmon Kornick at Clockwise
CIO Insight: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Kim: Pay attention to equal parts recruiting and equal parts building a contingent workforce. You have to continue to recruit, right? That has to be a function.
But then understand that this idea of building a contingent workforce is important, too. You have to look at your partners not as an extension of your team but as part of your team.
And then the final piece is to take a really good and honest look at how you can implement and make investments in technology to help with automation, thus freeing up time to increase that span of control.
Read next: Best MLOps Tools & Platforms
About Rob Kim
Robert Kim is Presidio’s Vice President of Technology Strategy. He is responsible for defining and driving Presidio’s technology investments that shape the company’s full portfolio of service capabilities. He has over 20 years of experience evaluating IT trends and advising clients on what technologies will create market differentiation and where it’s most relevant to invest and deploy.
Prior to joining Presidio in 2016, he held leadership positions at technology management and consulting firms, with roles in sales engineering, business development, operational excellence, and financial management.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.