Addressing the Technical Skills Gap Through Education Partnerships
Technology, and its impact on business, is continually evolving, causing the now almost cliched technical skills gap. In fact, a 2017 CompTIA survey of 600 IT and business executives in the U.S. found that nearly half say their organization’s skills gaps have worsened over the last two years, negatively impacting key business areas at 94 percent of organizations. Eighty percent of respondents were somewhat or very concerned with the IT skills gap in particular, in areas such as emerging technology, cloud infrastructure and cybersecurity.
Multiple methods of addressing the technical skills gap have been proposed, including IBM’s “new collar” program, coding bootcamps and reskilling displaced workers from other industries. It’s important for organizations to look outside their own training departments to consider partnering with educational institutions and training providers, as well. Many community colleges offer workforce development programs, providing cost benefits as well as the credentials valued by many employers and workers.
Infosys, a technology services and consulting company, announced in May that it planned to open four Technology and Innovation Hubs “focusing on cutting-edge technology areas, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, user experience, emerging digital technologies, cloud, and big data.” The initiative includes offering technical training to local workers and partnering with community colleges to develop customized training programs for “both recent graduates and experienced professionals,” according to Navin Budhiraja, senior vice president and head of architecture and technology at Infosys.
“Digital evolution happens at both the organizational and individual levels, making ongoing learning programs an essential part of the process,” wrote Rahaf Harfoush, a faculty member of CrossKnowledge, in a recent blog post. That means developing a culture of lifelong learning, which Budhiraja says is “essential in a global, technology-driven economy.” Learning should be hands-on so that employees gain valuable experience with new technologies, and include the soft skills that are, even in a technical world, still critical.
Ninety-six percent of decision-makers surveyed in spring 2017 believe “achieving pervasive automation is key to their digital transformation,” and 98 percent of those who used AI said doing so “generated additional organizational revenue.” But it will take new skills to achieve these gains from AI, so training is key. Andrew Ng, co-founder and co-chair of Coursera, says AI is “the new electricity”: “Look at the number of electrical engineers and electricians there are. There’s a huge workforce that needs to be built up for society to figure out how to do all of the wonderful stuff around us today.” He also points to the fast-changing nature of technology as evidence of the need for lifelong learning.
In a 2015 survey by Training Industry and CrossKnowledge, 54 percent of organizations said their workforces were not digitally ready, with resources, including budgetary restrictions and inadequate trainers, being their biggest challenge in readying their workforce. Partnering with community colleges and other organizations is one possible solution.
CompTIA’s recent survey found that technology is “a primary factor in reaching business objectives” for 74 percent of organizations, and many are focused on training their current employees. However, CompTIA also reports that almost 800,000 IT workers will retire by the end of 2024, so organizations must also address earlier gaps in the technical talent pipeline. Training recent college graduates and workers from other industries through initiatives like the Infosys Technology and Innovation Hubs is one way to do so. What’s key is that training leaders look at a variety of opportunities to expand their pool of skilled technical talent to support innovation and even transformation across their organizations.
Taryn Oesch, CPTM, is an editor at Training Industry, Inc.