As the tools and technologies that we use in today’s organizations evolve, the skills required to succeed on tomorrow’s IT teams are shifting as well.
LinkedIn recently analyzed job postings to determine the most in-demand skills for 2019 and found that technical skill categories like cloud computing, artificial intelligence and analytical reasoning topped the list. In this rapidly changing landscape, we face increased demand for specialized talent to manage new technologies, workloads and ways of working. What’s more, IT trade group CompTIA estimated that there are more than 700,000 unfilled IT jobs in the U.S., after analyzing the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Report. A recent survey suggests the reality of finding this talent is bleak — 87% of IT executives say it’s challenging to find skilled technology professionals today.
If this is a situation you’ve found your company in, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively combat these challenges. Here are four tips to help bolster your IT team, discover untapped pools of talent, minimize the burden of existing tasks and prepare them all for future challenges, whatever work (or workloads) may come their way.
1. Tap into machine learning and automation
While IT leaders have stated their top priorities include investing in new technology and focusing on innovation to help grow business and cloud projects, the majority of enterprise IT resources are actually expended for “Keep The Lights On” (KTLO) activities. In order to maintain systems, we often repeat the same processes over and over again. This makes it relatively simple to document those processes in detail, enabling translation into code, which then enables us to give that code give to a machine to learn to do the same work more efficiently. In fact, 38% of manual work today could potentially be completed autonomously.
Unfortunately, as long as we spend the bulk of our energy on KTLO, we’ll lack the mental, emotional and physical bandwidth to even think about designing the next big thing. Employing machine learning tools, wherever possible, opens doors and creates space for IT teams to work more effectively while developing the systems and skills needed for the future.
2. Support IT education in forward-thinking schools
With more schools creating programs to meet the demand for specific IT skills, we all have an opportunity to support these programs and help shape future teams.
Cloud skills are a top priority as public cloud spending is set to reach $210 billion this year, and some colleges have risen to the occasion by offering specialized programs for cloud computing. The University of Maryland, University College now offers a master’s degree in Cloud Computing Architecture. Similarly, Purdue offers an online bachelor’s degree in Cloud Computing and Solutions.
At the end of the day, with every technology company now offering a competitive salary, money is not what keeps your employees happy, and it’s not what will move the needle on innovation within your team.
IT executives can support these programs by focusing recruiting efforts on schools like these, as well as showing students of all backgrounds that access to successful modern technical careers is possible for everyone. For example, Silicon Valley’s Consortium for Information Systems Executives (CISE) supports scholarships that enable members of underserved communities to pursue a two-year Associate Degree in Cybersecurity at Oakland’s Merritt College, then helps with internships and career placement.
As a member of the Board at Girls In Tech, an organization focused on educating career-age women in the latest technology tools and systems, I have the opportunity to connect tech companies with female entrepreneurs and technologists who have benefitted from our advanced technology training and mentoring.
3. Look for talent in new places
As corporate leaders, if we want to “future-proof” our companies and our technologies, we must hire and develop talent with diverse skills and mindsets. I often share the stories of my experiences finding great hires in unusual places, with the hope that this encourages others to do the same. I hired the barista from our local coffee shop the week after he completed his MBA, and on a long layover in Chicago, I connected with an amazing woman who helped me to fit out a data center.
One specific group that comes to mind is the veteran’s community. While this community is frequently overlooked for IT roles, veterans have precisely what it takes to succeed in IT: a proven ability to show up, get trained, and excel in extreme environments, along with a fresh perspective on how to innovate. And many military roles require use and mastery of complex technical systems.
Technology companies have an opportunity to actively support the development of diverse talent pools as well. For years I’ve worked with organizations such as NPower and TechQualled, which ensure that veterans returning from military service and young people from underserved communities have access to technology training and career placement. These organizations partner with the best and brightest tech companies in Silicon Valley and throughout the U.S., and their candidates provide us with unique competitive advantages.
To me, diversity is not a demographic measurement. Instead, it is the hallmark of a thriving ecosystem and a key factor required for survival of the fittest companies and industries. Consider the creative skills outside of traditional IT, like entrepreneurial thinking, art and music. Individual creative experiences are what drive new ideas and solutions. Our industries and our companies need people who can think differently and make unique contributions that will move us forward.
4. Focus on retention and upskilling current employees
When you’re not looking for talent from new sources, focus on nurturing the talent within your own company.
Retention is key in a competitive hiring market, and the cost of finding new talent is high. To empower your existing employees, provide ongoing education for new skills and opportunities for employees to work cross-functionally to adapt to new responsibilities. Employee training can come in many forms — mentoring, instructor-led lectures, agile projects and hands-on experimentation — and research shows both companies and employees reap the benefits of training, whether that means increased retention or just overall job satisfaction. And the burgeoning gig economy all but ensures that we’ll end up working with each other across multiple companies and projects as the years unfold, so eventually, none of our investment in training goes to waste.
Ultimately, we can’t be afraid of change in today’s modern workforce. Rather, this is the time to encourage it. Continuing to innovate internally requires redefining roles when necessary, building modern resources and tools, and reconfiguring your department structure to better address growing company needs. At the end of the day, with every technology company now offering a competitive salary, money is not what keeps your employees happy, and it’s not what will move the needle on innovation within your team. Team members stay and produce value when they have responsibility for challenging projects, solve interesting problems and continue learning and growing in a dynamic environment. It’s our job to create and foster that setting for our employees.
When it comes to hiring and retaining the best IT talent, it can seem like you’re losing the race against a constantly changing technology environment. But with the right investments in existing talent, future employees and new technologies, you’ll be equipped to lead the pack and foster the skilled IT team that your company needs, both in the present and in the future.