The IT Skills Gap & How to Respond

vector/drawing of a gap, with employees working to cross that gap

Essentially, a skills gap is a gap between what employers need their employees to do, and what those employees can actually do. If you've ever said something like, “Our organization desperately needs to migrate more infrastructure to the Cloud, but our IT staff lacks the knowledge to do so,” you're talking about a skills gap.

Before we get into the top IT skills gap areas, first, let's lay out some of the major ways that a skills gap can negatively impact a business: (1) It can lower staff productivity. (2) It can inhibit customer service & engagement. (3) It can shrink sales and profitability. (4) It can stifle speed to market. (5) It can lead to holes in cybersecurity. (6) It can make it difficult to keep up with competitors.

It's open to debate if the above effects of a skills gap will be this far-reaching for every business in every industry, but it's certainly difficult to argue that there's any value in having a workforce void of the relevant skills needed to compete and succeed.

Moreover, according to CompTIA's research report, Assessing the IT Skills Gap, which was published in the Spring of 2017, “Despite the consequences, most organizations do not have a formal strategy to address skills gaps.” The report also found that organizations report many effects attributed to skills gaps; however, despite the negative impact, only 1 in 3 organizations indicate they have a formal process and resources in place to address skills gap challenges. The remaining two-thirds of respondents report having only an informal process or no process at all in place. Compounding this lack of focus, more than half of organizations (54%) acknowledge they struggle to some degree in identifying and assessing skills gaps among their workforce.

Top IT Skills Gap Areas

Below are six of the top IT Skills Gap areas as was reported by CompTIA's Assessing the IT Skills Gap research report.

Note: Skills gaps do not just impact IT alone. In fact, CompTIA notes that when levels of proficiency were compared across six business functions, IT still ranks in the top three, but a greater level of gaps are reported with marketing and sales/business development. Proficiency ratings for IT rate similarly to operations. And in comparison, skill gaps are less of an issue among customer service and accounting/finance functions.

1. Emerging Technologies (AI, Automation, IoT)

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)—AI is beginning to be deployed by increasing numbers of businesses. For example, Coldwell Banker is experimenting with AI to target classes of likely buyers for a specific property, and piloting new AI software that helps identify likely sellers. Leading law firms also use AI to scan thousands of legal documents in minutes, rather than weeks, to build stronger cases at a fraction of the cost. However, of the 1.8 million jobs Artificial Intelligence may eliminate, the emerging field will create 2.3 million by 2020, according to a recent report from Gartner. And a recent Capgemini report found that 83% of companies using AI say the technology is already adding jobs. Still, last year, 56% of senior AI professionals argued in a recent Ernst & Young poll that the lack of talent and qualified workers is the greatest single barrier to the implementation of AI across business operations.
  • Automation—You've probably heard the notion that robots are going to take our jobs. Perhaps that's true—to some extent—considering that Oxford University researchers estimated that 47% of all current US employment is at high risk to become automated over the next decade or so. Automation is evolving quickly and business intelligence in applications is a new form of high-quality automation. In the technology domain, the impact of automation is increasing rapidly, both in the software/hardware and machine layer. A report released in November 2017 from the research arm of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company forecasts scenarios in which 3-14% of workers around the world—in 75 million to 375 million jobs—will have to acquire new skills and/or switch occupations by 2030 due to a coming wave of job automation.
  • Internet of Things (IoT)—IoT technology arguably made its initial impact in 2015, when a startup called Nest reinvented the thermostat and made it “smart,” which is connected via the Internet to a consumer's smart phone, and voice-controlled speaker. Nest went on to reinvent smoke alarms, home security and a growing list of products, and the technology is exploding. In a recent study, The Impact of Connectedness on Competitiveness, which was based on a global survey of 350 executives from large global enterprises, almost a third of respondents believed that IoT faces a major skills gap, and that it's preventing businesses from being able to harness new capabilities.

2. Cloud Infrastructure

Cloud Computing has experienced exponential growth over the last few years and is only expected to climb. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that by the end of 2018, more than 60% of enterprises will have at least half of their infrastructure on Cloud-based platforms.

However, with an increase in the adoption of Cloud Computing comes the demand. In fact, a recent study by the London School of Economics, and sponsored by Rackspace, finds that “nearly three quarters of IT decision makers (71%) believe their organizations have lost revenue due to a lack of cloud expertise.”

3. Digital Business Transformation

Digital Transformation is the application of digital technologies to improve the performance or reach of a business, and it will continue to be an important topic for companies across the globe. Executives in all industries are using digital advances, such as data analytics, mobility, social media, and smart embedded devices (IoT) to change customer relationships, internal processes, and value propositions.

A study, “Skills for Digital Transformation” carried out by SAP and the Technical University of Munich, revealed that gaps in cross-functional knowledge may become a major obstacle for digital transformation. Of those companies that responded to the survey, 83% stated that they are lacking the required skills to drive a successful transformation. In addition, 72% said that their business executives are lacking the technology skills necessary to enable it.

4. Cybersecurity

A recent study by CompTIA cited human error as the most common cause of information security breaches, with some 80% of respondents believing this human error was caused by a lack of security knowledge, training, or failure to follow security procedures.

In today's information-driven economy, intellectual property is the most valuable organizational possession. And keeping a company's vital data secure is the responsibility of every employee in the company. From guarding against attacks to creating an effective response plan, everyone in an organization must take part in keeping their information secure.

If you're especially interested in security, check out an article written by New Horizons Technical Instructor Shawn Stugart, 6 Cybersecurity Precautions Companies Fail to Take.

5. Software/App Development

There's a great quote from Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at IDC that goes, “Software may eat the world, but software developers will rule it.”

Since most software applications are released online, core web application development skills are in high demand. Businesses need what is known as “full-stack developers,” which are professionals who are skilled in every layer of the development stack, from back-end to front-end.

Total revenues from mobile apps are forecasted to reach $99 billion annually by 2019, according to Juniper Research. However, there is a shortage of developers. Recruiting firm Ranstad Technologies concluded that there was a staggering 104% year-over-year demand between 2014 and 2016 for developers with mobile skillsfor iOS, Android, HTML5, Angular, Java and JavaScript.

6. Data Management

While most businesses are aware of the need to gather, access, organize, and analyze big data to remain competitive, many are asking themselves, How? According to a study conducted by Oracle, 93% of executives believe their organization is losing revenue (on average, 14% annually) as a result of not being able to fully leverage the data they collect.

Organizations need to make sense of the real-time data being generated every day because this ability to make the right decisions in real-time yields real competitive advantage. Still, many organizations do not have the training needed for their workforce to make timely and accurate decisions based on the data they are collecting.

What Businesses Can Do to Bridge the Gap

There's no simple solution, but obviously there are steps that businesses can take to narrow the skills gap. Here's an interesting take: Andrew Weaver, an assistant professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says, “The idea that American workers are being left in the dust because they lack technological savvy does not stand up to scrutiny. Our focus should be on coordination and communication between workers and employers.” (Read more about Weaver's take on the Skills Gap here.)

On a similar note, this past November, Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, published a piece abruptly titled, The Skills Gap Is a Myth. In it he says, “Reports of the skills gap have been greatly exaggerated. That’s not to say that U.S. businesses aren’t having a tough time. Surveys show that most employers are struggling to find and hire qualified people. But the solution is in their hands: provide the training needed to get the workers they want.

Cappelli adds: “I don’t see any way to make progress without engaging employers, including HR professionals. They must be deeply involved in the process of skills development—just as they were in the past. But how can we get decentralized employers to help provide work-based learning experiences in some structured way for people who are not already their employees? That seems to be the challenge, and it’s a big one.”

Another interesting approach to bridging the skills gap was revealed in CareerBuilder's latest studies on the U.S. labor market, which was completed in March 2017. According to the survey, 66% of employers plan to train and hire workers who may not have all the skills they need, but show potential to excel. Similarly, 44% of employers plan to train low-skill workers who don’t have experience in their field and hire them for higher-skill jobs.