Is upskilling the obvious answer to the IT shortage?
Training and Development

Is upskilling the obvious answer to the IT shortage?

The digital skills shortage is real, with demand for skilled professionals continuing to dramatically outweigh supply. According to Capgemini, 51 per cent of firms say there’s an absence in hard digital skills in their organisation, and the UK government states that the digital skills gap currently costs the economy £63bn ($82bn) a year.

As it becomes increasingly difficult for businesses to find the talent they need, the importance of upskilling existing staff should not be overlooked – something which sadly seems to be the case today.

“Our research reveals that only 46 per cent of business’ training and development is focused on new market technologies such as AI and data analytics,” says Chris Ducker, senior director of Sungard Availability Services. “With these technologies promising to fundamentally change all industries, why is this not higher? Companies need to invest in their employees, giving them the tools to drive forward a more digital future.”

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It is important to note, however, that many of the latest requirements – and associated skills – are just coming to light in recent years, and it can take companies time to mobilise around new upskilling and retooling initiatives.

Big data, IoT, AI, machine learning and robotics are disrupting businesses faster than they can find talent to management them, making these some of the most important skills to focus on.

However, cybersecurity skills are also proving crucial, in part due to the number of high profile data breaches in recent years, but also thanks to the upcoming implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) next May. As the situation has shifted from if a company will be hacked to when, businesses need to ensure they have the right skills in place to mitigate security risks.

Many organisations have struggled to prioritise training in the past, but this looks set to change as more companies begin to see that with a lack of new hires, upskilling staff could be a key solution to the digital talent gap.

“Employees are keen to learn new skills, with 60 per cent currently doing so in their own time. Companies should take advantage of this enthusiasm,” points out Capgemini’s head of executive leadership and change, Claudia Crummenerl.

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Pivotal’s director Robbie Clutton agrees that those that nurture their existing employees, giving them the digital skills they need to drive the business from within, are likely to be best placed to prosper in today’s uncertain business environment. It also makes for a happier workforce, as upskilling is great for staff morale. This helps employees feel more valued and motivated – in turn improving the company’s productivity.

In addition, upskilling staff can also help increase recruitment and employee retention rates, as lack of career development and training is one of the key reasons people leave organisations. “Staff will be more attracted and loyal to a company where they are encouraged to grow and explore new avenues for progression,” Martin Wygas, partner at Lyceum Capital highlights.


What kind of training works best?

Businesses have a multitude of training options at their fingertips today, depending on their size, sector, budget and staff. Classroom-based and online training are both popular, with blended learning often considered the most successful approach. This brings together a variety of training formats from in-person workshops through to social learning platforms and digital training that offers real-time learning support.

“Highly engaging and relevant content will always get the best results, especially if delivered in a medium that appeals to the target audience,” says Richard Cober, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at MicroStrategy Incorporated. “This could mean anything from webinars and hands-on workshops to videos and discussion groups.

“There isn’t a hard or fast rule, but companies have to ensure that employees are able to digest and understand content in a way that works for them, without adding time pressures.”

Tony Glass, GM and VP of corporate sales at Skillsoft EMEA, adds: “While the training needs of every organisation are different, a number of key elements should always be considered. You need to make sure the resources are easy to access and search. Content must be available on any device, at any time or location. The programme must feature expert-led instruction: authenticity and credibility matter too, especially with critical topics like IT security.

“While many Baby Boomers prefer book-based learning, it’s a different story for younger generations. For a growing number of workers, video is the most requested learning mode. Hands-on learning also creates excellent retention and is a learning style that has particular appeal to IT professionals. Trainees often also report that although they value the content of videos, classes, and books, they want to put those lessons to work with practical application as soon as possible.”

For specialised digital skills, many companies turn to organisations focused on providing technical training and certification. For example, ISACA offers globally recognised certifications in areas such as information system auditing, information security management and enterprise IT governance. Another is the Institute for Information Security Professionals (IISP), which runs seminars and accredited courses on cyber and IT security.

Companies are taking a variety of approaches to reskilling their staff. AT&T for example, focuses on providing employees with a range of training options – both internal and external.

“Internal training is provided by our corporate university – AT&T University – that is focused on skilling and reskilling our employees and inspiring a culture of continuous learning. In addition, we’re working with external partners to help create additional opportunities leading to degrees or certifications in specialised fields,” notes John V Slamecka, AT&T region president, AT&T Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

“For us, a big part of the reskilling effort is about transparency and empowerment. For example, earlier this year we launched a new tool called the Personal Learning Experience. It’s a single place employees can go to plan, manage and track learning. That includes things like role-based training for a current position or an assigned future ready role, and goal-based training for any management position.”

InniAccounts’ strategy includes bringing basic digital skills to the wider business by turning its tech team into “internal consultants”.

“They’re supporting the wider business and helping non-technical colleagues develop their skills, working collaboratively with them to solve problems,” highlights CEO James Poyser. “It’s a real shift, breaking out of implementation-based silos and spreading digital knowledge throughout the company,” he concludes.


Also read:
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Keri Allan

Keri Allan is a freelance journalist and editor who has been covering the engineering and technology sector for over 15 years, writing for titles including E&T Magazine, The Engineer and Arabian Computer News.

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