Grow your own talent

CIOs and CTOs are developing the talent modern business requires

Ten years ago, my eldest daughter entered the education system. Ten years ago, CIOs and CTOs were not recruiting data scientists and User Experience (UX) leaders. There were information managers, there were scientists; but they rarely worked in enterprise IT and users were employees not customers and few organisations focused on the experience those consumers had. Today as we near 2020 there is no doubt that the roles of those working in a CIO's team has drastically changed.

This change in the type of skills required by the enterprise has fostered a common vernacular, as the technology world is apt to do - the skills shortage. Many agree a skills shortage is upon us, others see a change in the global culture that is impacting recruitment in just the same way as it is keeping shoppers at home (but still shopping) and TV show watchers out and about (but still watching episodes). Whichever you believe, if organisations need data scientists and UX leads, they will have to do more than place a role with a recruitment firm. It is no longer a buyer's market; enterprise IT needs to look at its house and do some Do It Yourself (DIY) and develop the skills it requires.

Is there a skills gap?

A report by the European Commission found that 37% of the workforce do not have the basic digital skills organisations now require and the Commission believes there could be 750,000 roles left open in 2020. Beyond Europe, the World Economic Forum reports that 54% of the global workforce will need "significant re-skilling" by 2022. This comes at a time when IT organisations are struggling to find those rare soft skills needed to ensure new technologies are adopted and new ways of working embraced.

The recruitment sector is convinced there is a skills gap and is struggling to find the number of candidates it requires for the commissions it receives from CIOs. The European Commission agrees with the recruiters and states that demand for digital professionals has grown by four percent a year for the last decade. Security, data analytics, IoT, Cloud, change management and integration skills are those the Commission, recruiters and CIOs in my network all agree there is a shortage of.

Of those only IoT is really new, and with a range of new technologies about to hit the enterprise such as Edge computing, robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, the World Economic Forum says there could be 133 million new roles about to be created.

CIO at global science and manufacturing firm Johnson Matthey Paul Coby is not surprised. Coby spent nine years as Chair of the CIO Board at eSkills, a not-for-profit employer-led organisation which existed to promote technology skills development and, as you would expect, he has a clear view of whether the technology sector is facing a skills gap. 

"IT is constantly changing, so it would be very surprising if there was not a digital skills gap. Accounting standards change once a decade, whereas IT is constantly evolving. So, it is really important that as a technologist and a CIO you keep up-to-date."

"You cannot predict the future, but you can develop the capabilities to be able to react," says Jawaz Illavia, VP Global Business Services at Danish brewers Carlsberg. "For example, in areas such as user experience (UX), it's not just about making things look good, it's about the design process that the users really need while keeping the future possibilities in mind."

Illavia has been developing the UX, software, data engineering, data architecture and product management abilities of Carlsberg. Carlsberg is not alone in discovering that it lacked the skills to benefit from digital technologies.

"In the 80s and 90s corporate IT functions were all about infrastructure. In the 2000s it was business processes and then you outsourced the technology and then the disruptors came along and they did that because they had the technology skills in-house. So, we are building up our internal capabilities," Illavia says.

CIO of international transport business Addison Lee, Ian Cohen, doesn't believe there is a skills gap, but that the digital talent that enterprises crave and need just doesn't want to work in a traditional business or in traditional ways. 

"There is so much talent out there but it's not going to just come to you because you posted a job on LinkedIn or engaged a recruiter," Cohen says. "You must focus on what makes you an attractive destination for people and how you engage them. You need to go to the talent and have a genuinely compelling proposition," he says adding how important it is for CIOs to go to meetups, conferences and hackathons.

The purpose of an organisation really gives IT teams their context, Cohen says, adding that all great companies need to consider why they are in business and why their customers should care. However the Group CIO believes increasingly technologists want to work for organisations that have a clear purpose and are on a bold and interesting journey that is truly enabled by the use of technology to tackle business opportunities.

Coby agrees on the importance of a purpose for recruitment and retention and adds it is important to make sure those values are real and resonate with a global workforce - Johnson Matthey has IT people in 20 countries round the World. "If it isn't starting debates and discussion, you are not trying," the CIO says.

Addison Lee's Cohen uses a model of Attract, Engage, Learn and Return and admits many CIOs and organisations struggle with the concept of learn and return as it is "the antithesis of retain".

The Harvey Nash/KPMG annual CIO survey finds that organisations with budgets over $250 million are the least able to retain technology staff, whilst 44% of CIOs in organisations with budgets of under $50 million are finding it easier to retain key skills.

"This poses a particular problem when larger organisations are most likely to benefit from transformation and do not have the skills to support their plans," the report says. Adding: "Our research tells us that technology professionals value innovative projects and learning new skills above anything else and smaller organisations seem to offer this," and therefore agreeing with Cohen's hypothesis.

The importance of developing teams

"At Johnson Matthey we have done an opinion survey of all my colleagues in IT and they flagged up that we need to invest in technical training. So we have set up training courses, some in the classroom, others online," reveals CIO Paul Coby. Ross Fullerton, CIO of the UK's London Ambulance Service is another that has adopted online training and seen a positive return from his team members.

Just as the roles CIOs require didn't exist 10 years ago, the training opportunities were thin on the ground too. That is not the case today. Coursera, Udacity, Plurasight and Udemy are some of the online training options available. All of them have data science, machine learning and AI courses. Cloud CRM supplier Salesforce has developed an online learning platform, Trailhead. So the challenge for CIOs and CTOs is to both fund access to these resources and possibly to guarantee teams time in the working week to personally develop. Research by the World Economic Forum shows that organisations that are successful at workforce transformation have increased levels of production, efficiency and move into new markets more easily.

CIO Coby says of how training improves retention: "What I want to do is to empower IT people themselves. The IT professionals know what skills they need better than I do. I tell people ‘keep current and that helps people to want to work with you.'"