Examining and approaching the tech skills gap

Plenty of evidence posits that while a great deal of growth is projected in the near future for professions under the tech umbrella, a skills gap exists right now for certain pivotal areas of tech employment. It will be critical for businesses to examine this phenomenon broadly and within their specific teams – and also to begin working as soon as possible to address such matters.

A critical look at industry projections  
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that a 12% expansion of the tech labor force will occur between 2018 and 2028, and many business leaders and hiring managers would likely agree with such an assessment. Along similar lines, a study by the Pew Research Center found that employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields rose by 78% between 1990 and 2018

Yet those extraordinarily broad data points and expectations do not account for the many variances within the field's specific professions. For example, a specialized role like an information security analyst is slated for 32% growth over the 2018-2028 period, but that's because there aren't many such professionals in that niche to begin with (slightly more than 112,000 in 2018).

Moreover, although tech staffing has certainly increased by leaps and bounds since its (relatively) early days, it does not mean that such an increase is actually commensurate with how much growth in tech skills businesses actually need. It seems clear that in many cases, the demand for high-echelon tech talents is still far larger than the pool of those skills' available and qualified practitioners.

The specific nature of the gap 
Within the general context of the tech skills gap, there are a number of individual deficiencies that company leaders are particularly urgent to deal with. A recent study of this overall phenomenon found that cybersecurity was the most urgent skill area of need among numerous decision-makers in IT departments. Given the fear of ransomware, social engineering scams and other cyberattacks modern businesses most certainly have, this makes a great deal of sense. Next on the list were specialists in cloud security and architecture, business intelligence and reporting, database management and DevOps. 

Those needs, while undoubtedly urgent for so many businesses, are at least known quantities. Even though the specific ins and outs of cybersecurity, the cloud, analytics and DevOps are constantly changing, they have all been around for at least a decade. This makes them somewhat easier to recruit for. On the other hand, newer areas of tech such as machine learning and blockchain are not nearly as entrenched within the industry. In the years to come, they're likely to become even more prevalent, only increasing the possible severity of the overall skills gap. 

Sustainable tech staffing solutions 
The approaches that today's companies take to the technology skills gap generally fall into a few distinct categories. There are those that choose to deal with tech personnel needs on a rolling basis as the requirements of certain specific initiatives dictate, hiring qualified personnel for set terms of work – three months, six months, maybe a year. Contract-based employment has been on the rise of late, and some highly skilled developers, engineers or infosec specialists who might not accept a full-time offer from a given company would do so on a temporary basis. Hiring on a case-by-case basis, however, means that an organization's IT department doesn't ever become solidified or dependable. 

Another option is to shake up hiring criteria, as noted by InformationWeek: Traditional bellwethers of experience like a four-year college education or a decade-plus tenure in tech do not have to be ironclad requirements, and they may ultimately be less important than valuable soft skills like communication and collaboration. This approach is generally most effective if the organization applying it has continuous learning resources in place to efficiently train new workers in the areas of tech they don't already know. However, it won't always work when a company's skills gap pertains to niche areas of IT.

Ultimately, the best way to go about managing the skills gap will be adopting a multi-pronged approach: Implementing ongoing job training resources, for example, is never a bad idea. It allows hires from within that a business can be truly confident about. And it's always worthwhile to chase the top tech talent through traditional recruitment. But when those strategies aren't working for whatever reason, it's critical to be able to quickly pivot to working with a trusted tech staffing firm to find the best contract talent and meet immediate needs.