Examining (and approaching) tech skills shortages

There has always been concern about the potential problems posed by skills gaps in tech – perhaps more than in any other major sector of the economy, both in the U.S. and abroad. Given the high degree of training and experience required for even entry- and associate-level tech jobs, such worries are warranted, but in recent months, fears over the sheer size of skills shortages have started eclipsing normal levels. 

To address this issue head-on, it will be critical for business leaders to examine the broader picture of IT in addition to specific staffing issues, as they determine how best to address any skills shortages and other tech staffing issues they may have:

Looking at the major skills gaps
According to the 2019 Harvey Nash/KPMG survey of chief information officers all over the world, the three skill areas about which C-suite tech leaders in American companies have the most concern are analytics, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence: Of the 3,645 CIOs responding to the survey, 44% of them considered AI a scarce skill in their organizations, while AI and cybersecurity tied for the runner-up spot with a 39% share. The report also found notable discontent among CIOs regarding shortages of tech staff with enterprise architecture and business analysis skill sets, with 34% and 31% of respondents respectively citing those areas. Cybersecurity skills gaps rose more than any other kind between 2018 and 2019, jumping 8% during that period. 

It practically goes without saying that all of those talent areas are in massively high demand, which almost always leads to an overall paucity of such skills. (To take a broader view of tech demand, consider that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 12% growth of tech occupations between 2018 and 2028 due to a continued need for those who can handle such specialized work.) However, the fact that these shortages represent all-time highs (and have basically been an issue of some kind since 2008 without abatement), as the report points out, may make it hard for company leaders to view the current talent shortfall as anything other than a very serious problem. 

Organizational shortage trends 
Interestingly enough, the Harvey Nash study found that despite their bigger budgets and ostensibly broader range of resources, larger organizations are currently dealing with more pressing skills shortages than small- and medium-sized businesses. Only 26% of companies with annual budgets greater than $250 million whose CIOs responded to the survey said they were able to retain key members of their IT teams for long periods of time, while 44% those whose annual expenditures didn't eclipse $50 million claimed they managed to hold on to their most skilled tech employees.

Although bigger businesses would, in theory, seem to have distinct advantages here by virtue of their branding and international reach (along with the aforementioned budgetary strength), Harvey Nash's findings identified that smaller organizations may offer more attractive challenges and learning opportunities in tech than their larger counterparts. 

The bigger picture
It is worth noting that not all industry analysts believe the tech skills gap is quite as big a problem as others perceive it to be. Citing research conducted by Martha Gimbel and Tara Sinclair, Forbes contributor Joe McKendrick reported that it became easier overall for employers to find tech talent between 2014 and 2018, especially those who simply need general IT staff to serve as jacks of all trades. Additionally, certain tech jobs are becoming less complex – largely due to less reliance on formal coding knowledge in those areas – and thus open to a wider range of potential applicants.

However, none of that serves as a substantive rebuttal to the issue of skills gaps for specialized tech positions that are in high demand. Cybersecurity, in particular, requires a great deal of existing knowledge and the ability to keep up with an ever-changing landscape in which new threats materialize constantly, while AI skills haven't existed for long enough to be commonplace among average IT employees. 

The best approach via which businesses can work toward closing their gaps in these hyper-specific skills may be retention and continuous learning, according to TechRepublic: Companies that have a bona fide cybersecurity expert on their payroll would be wise to do whatever it takes to keep that individual in their role as long as possible. To account for the near-inevitability of that departure, it will also be prudent to develop training initiatives, in which veterans can impart their wisdom to less seasoned employees over time. Maintaining these practices while always keeping an eye out for new tech talent – assisted by the tech contract staffing experts at Marchon Partners – will help organizations develop and maintain strong, well-rounded IT departments capable of facing whatever curveballs the foreseeable future may throw.