Business Management

Kathryn Cave (Global) - How Will Today's 'Skills Shortage' Impact Tomorrow's CIO?

Interim European research shows 83% of industry professionals believe there is no IT skills shortage. However, many other reports contradict these findings. Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect discusses whether there really is a skills shortage and what impact this is likely to have on tomorrow's CIO.

In Britain "Smith" is one of the most popular surnames. This is because when naming started many people were assigned their trade, and as horses were the only form of transport, there were a lot of blacksmiths about. Now you hardly ever come across a blacksmith, and the main reminder of this once huge occupation is his legacy namesake. I wonder what would come out top if we started from scratch today. Would there be a lot of Mr Project Managers milling around?

The fact is, nurturing the right workplace skills and preparing for the ever changing needs of the future is critical for any success. Yet the rapid nature of change (especially in IT) makes it very hard to predict what will happen next. This means any shortage of skills is particularly difficult to pin down. Do we mean skills for right now? Skills for five years' time? Or just general skills we feel the industry needs?

Our interim findings (the research is not yet complete) based on the opinions of 343 IT decision makers across UK, France, Germany and Switzerland showed 83% believe there is no skills shortage. However, this stands at complete odds with US research conducted this March by CompTIA which highlighted critical skills shortages inside US IT departments and described shortages hitting organisations hard across five key areas: profitability, productivity, innovation, speed to market, customer service and security. 93% reported some gap between the technical skills IT staff possess, and the skills the company needs.

I think the key word here could be ‘technical'. Obviously, trends vary from region to region, but an April study released by recruitment group Hays Information Technology might help shed some light on these seemingly conflicting results. This takes the view that a lack of IT talent is a global issue and claims this is one of the top "hard skills" in demand. Andy Bristow, business director at Hays Information Technology also added there is a lack in both "soft" and "hard" skills: "Hard IT skills are more about infrastructure and installing - the technical guys that are clear about what they offer, which is top draw IT skills. Soft skills tend to be focused on end user needs and behaviour and how technology affects or improves a business."

Perhaps this differentiation between "hard" and "soft" skills helps explain the problem. Of the small percentage of our European respondents which do believe there is a shortage, 40% think it lies in "senior technical skills"; whilst in the CompTIA research it was technical skills which came out top. The truth is these hard, technical skills are easiest to identify. In support of this, in April TechRepublic's CIO Jury decided there is no widespread skills shortage, but concluded IT workers with business skills are difficult to find. Maybe the crux is this: there are clearly specific technical shortages in some regions which need to be addressed. But the real difficulty is always going to be pinpointing the "softer skills" needed to ensure the effective development of the industry as a whole. This doesn't mean there is a shortage per se, but it does make it important to identify the type of skills really necessary to drive progress.

In a recent article in CIO Australia, Bruce Carlo wrote at length about how attracting individuals from diverse industry backgrounds to CIO positions is the key to growth in future. He was adamant that organisations must challenge traditional ideas about IT and confront out-dated attitudes to hiring technology leaders. He stated, "This flawed attitude to IT leadership is particularly evident when the CIO role is made to report to the CFO, [this] sends the wrong message: IT is purely a cost centre and not an enabler of growth or a sustainability partner."

Furthermore, Carlo went on to describe a widespread "misunderstanding" of the CIO role. He pointed out many organisations "make the mistake of promoting internally, often choosing someone with an incestuous, industry-specific background, [which] will not bring the necessary innovation to the organisation; the person they really need is a candidate with a diversity of industry experience." All this seems especially true in South Africa. In our latest study published on Monday, we found that developing the right skills for the future is such a problem that 77% of professionals surveyed do not believe opportunities are good enough to develop tomorrow's CIOs.

Overall, evidence does seem to suggest some regional lack of core technical skills needed to sustain IT. This varies by geography, but there will always be a certain level of "hard" know-how needed to ‘keep the lights on'. The real challenge though, is developing the best skill-set for an ever changing industry. This is especially important for acquiring the right "soft" proficiencies to secure the success of tomorrow's business leaders. There may be a huge amount of skill required to make a horse shoe - but there isn't a huge amount of demand for blacksmiths in 2012. What skills do you feel are needed to develop future CIOs?

By Kathryn Cave, Editor, IDG Connect



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