Mind the gap: Coping with the IT skills shortage

As the IT landscape continues to change and become more complicated, the need for talented individuals with specific skill sets increases. The supply of skilled individuals frequently doesn’t meet the demand, leaving channel partners of all types to not only fight with each other over talent, but also with other companies and government organizations.

It’s an old story with a new twist. The IT skills gap has been referenced as a problem for more than a generation. Today’s needed skills aren’t the same as they were 20 years ago, but the issue of training enough workers quickly remains.

Sometimes the lack of skilled talent even costs solutions providers contracts, said Sandra Saric, vice president of talent innovation for the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Saric told CDN she has seen many solutions providers, particularly smaller companies, decline contracts simply because they didn’t have enough skilled talent on staff to fulfill the required commitments.

“That hinders their ability to service their needs,” Saric said.

In some cases, smaller channel players simply can’t compete against their larger competitors for talent. Although it has frequently been said that money isn’t everything, a good salary can speak volumes. Smaller players that can’t afford big salaries have no choice but to compete for talent by other means, Saric explained.

“[Salary is] actually a great attraction strategy for youth to go into STEM disciplines in school,” Saric said. “There’s definitely a divide that makes it difficult for smaller businesses to compete. They might not be able to compete on salary. They’ll compete on work environment.”

For some professionals, that’s enough. A smaller organization may provide opportunities to learn a lot about several disciplines, whereas a large company may not offer broader areas in which to receive experience.

To cope with the lack of skilled professionals in growing areas, including security, cloud computing, big data analytics and next-generation application development, many partners become specialists, said Stephen Brooks, spokesperson for The IT Project Board, a new online marketplace that connects businesses with skilled IT professionals around the world.

The IT Project Board aims to make it easier to create global virtual teams of IT professionals. Its goal is to speed up the average time it takes to recruit individuals for ongoing teams or one-off projects. It’s something Brooks said solutions providers can use to fill gaps in their existing skill sets.

“They can use The IT Project Board to supplement their team and basically build a virtual team made up of their suppliers and partners regardless of their geographic location,” Brooks told CDN.

Cross-border teams may, at times, create issues around regulatory compliance, though. It’s something some solutions providers will have to keep in mind as they consider their recruiting practices.

Lack of specific skills can have a serious impact on a partner’s business, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, in an interview with CDN.

It certainly can impact a partner’s business, especially if the customer decides it needs a particular service or skill right away,” King said. “No one wants to turn away potential sales engagements. For that reason, partners would do well to develop their own ‘soft skills’ in the sense of building trusted relationships with customers, better understanding their situations and needs, and finding ways to support them. There’s an old saying that the best way to stay fully employed is to become indispensable. That dynamic can work for channel partners, too.”

That’s not always easy, though. Finding a good salesperson who understands the technology can be difficult, as well, Saric said. On the flip side, many IT professionals still don’t understand the business side, making it challenging to fulfill the needs of their customers, she added.

For many solutions providers, the trick to thriving as the IT skills gap continues (and there’s no reason to believe it will end any time soon) is to change recruiting strategies.

“We have many companies contacting us now that traditionally had not even heard of us, ultimately because of this,” Saric said. “Some solutions providers are now looking — and we’re helping them as much as possible — to change their traditional recruitment stream.”

Like Brooks, Saric recommended looking beyond geographic boundaries, but she also stressed the importance of connecting with educational institutions and recruiting students right out of school. Internship and co-op learning programs can help companies find good talent they could hire following graduation.

Another important step is to create inclusive work environments that include women, indigenous peoples and newcomers to Canada, she said.

Recruiting the right talent is only the first step, though. Keeping people on staff can be even harder.

“There’s a smile on every headhunter’s face across the globe, and it’s going to continue to be a smile for the better part of a decade,” said David Perry, managing partner and founder of Perry-Martel International and author of “Hiring Greatness: How to Recruit Your Dream Team and Crush the Competition,” in an interview with CDN.

The war for talent is shaping up on a global scale, he explained. That doesn’t mean the battle is over after the employment contract is signed.

Everybody is great at lying to get someone to sign on the dotted line,” Perry said. “When you’re desperate, you do what you need to.”

However, tech-savvy people know enough to check Web sites like Glassdoor to get the inside scoop on employers. If potential hires don’t like what they see, then that’s the end of discussion, Perry said.

Employee retention does have one very simple principle, though.

“At the end of the day, keeping your employees no matter at what level comes down to one simple thing. Keep your promises. It’s like people who get married. They could stay married if they kept their promises,” Perry said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Chris Talbot
Chris Talbothttp://www.christalbot.com
Chris is a freelance technology writer that resides in the Northwest Territories. A former editor at ITWC, he now spends his time as a scribe for various tech publications while having an appreciation for the finer things in life - namely beer and cigars.

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