IT Skills Shortage Drives Need to Invest in Internal Training

While COVID-19 has dominated the headlines for more than a year, the coming IT skills shortage continues to sound a consistent drumbeat for CIOs.

Too many companies, it seems, have relied on college-educated talent streaming out of computer science degree programs or imported graduates from overseas to fill their growing IT needs. But a shrinking pool of new talent, whether due to stricter immigration policies, COVID-19 restrictions, or other factors, is causing organizations to invest more heavily in their people through training programs and initiatives. According to a survey by Netwrix, 31% of organizations are now prioritizing investment in IT staff education, up from 19% before the pandemic.

One Third of Workforce Will Retire Early

COVID-19 has given many an excuse to take retirement a little earlier than planned. And there are a LOT more potential retirees on the immediate horizon. By 2025, about 35% of current data center personnel are expected to exit the workforce via retirement. Note that this number does not take into account those leaving for other careers, positions, or a variety of other reasons. This experience/brain drain sets the stage for a significant IT talent crunch lies ahead.

COVID-19 Stalls Salaries and Shrinks Job Pool

IT salary increases stagnated in 2020, growing just 0.8% year over year, according to IT Business Edge. In addition to holding the line on base salaries, CIOs reported elimination of discretionary bonuses and curtailed hiring plans. By year’s end, there were 84,000 fewer IT jobs than at the start of 2020. While work-from-home initiatives may help alleviate some of the staffing pressures as businesses emerge from COVID, salaries are expected to remain flat through the second quarter of 2021.

CIOs Must Look Past Tech Hubs and Local Markets for Talent

Driven also by COVID-related layoffs and the high costs of living, the industry has witnessed a talent exodus from IT hubs such as Silicon Valley, NYC, the Virginia Corridor, and other major metropolitan centers. Generations Y and Ze have had enough of high rents, surging unemployment, and COVID restrictions.

Many IT pros are heading for the hills, or at least to rural or less-expensive areas like Omaha, Nashville, and Jacksonville. Which means tech giants in the U.S.’s traditional tech hubs who demand only local resources are finding fewer applicants than expected.

Regardless of location, global talent acquisition giant Korn Ferry recently estimated US tech companies could be facing annual revenue shortfalls of $162 billion for 2030 unless they find more qualified high-tech workers.

This has caused some to widen the hiring net beyond the local area. Good resources on the other side of the country can be trained online and brought up to speed. Free agents around the nation may be happier to work from home and may even be willing to work for less – as they no longer have to pay to live in a high-rent zone. Too, this trend could even lead to a higher percentage of women within the ranks of IT. Work from home combined with flexible working hours could tempt many to return to the workforce. And there are plenty of skilled female IT specialists out there who can do the job but may not be able to travel to the office.

Online Learning Grows to Address Training and Education Needs

With the surge in work-from-home and hybrid workplaces, online learning and certification is being relied upon heavily. In fact, there may be a trend away from college degrees to certification and apprenticeship as the way of the future. Those arriving at the workplace from college are often not armed with the tools they need to succeed.

Companies are finding they need to train graduates extensively in the platforms, coding languages, and applications in use in the organization. The education they receive at college can sometimes be either too general or may even be several years out of date – as curricula are generally only revised every few years.

That’s why the Googles, Facebooks, and Apples of the world appear to have changed their approach. No longer are they only chasing the top graduates in each yearly batch. Certification and in-house apprenticeship programs are being seen as a possible alternative gateway to talent acquisition.

Predictably, online learning is expected to shoulder a significant piece of the training burden. LinkedIn’s Workforce Learning Report surveyed 6,607 professionals in 18 countries. Of the 1,675 learning & development professionals in that group, 57% reported budgeting for increases in online learning in 2020 and beyond.

The training load is being shared between internal training on core competencies and using virtual learning platforms with pre-set curricula. One publisher in the northeast, for example, provided a corporate intranet with access to training on demand, as well as making certain courses available on a specific schedule. Some of these courses were made available through online learning platforms, some were simply links to courses on LinkedIn and YouTube, and some involved internal specialists teaching employees virtually or face to face.

Implications for the CIO

No single solution will close the training gap. Leadership must understand current training options and what gaps exist. Those gaps can either be filled by finding a specialist online learning provider, or by organizing internal training hosted by in-house experts.  Too, CIOs can encourage exploration of online learning, and internal learning management systems.

From bricks-and-mortar manufacturers to completely online consultancies, companies’ needs for educated, agile IT workforces will continue to grow. Addressing these needs can’t simply fall to HR or L&D departments.  Instead, CIOs need to play an active role as champions of increased training spends and hybrid learning models to address the needs of their swiftly changing IT workforces.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been writing about IT and engineering for more than 25 years. Originally from Scotland, he now lives in Florida.

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