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Addressing the IT skills shortage

by jcp

By: Michael Cantor, CIO, Park Place Technologies

Recently a Gartner survey of global CIOs reported that 64% of interviewed CIOs cited lack of attainment of qualified staff as being the most significant barrier to adoption of innovation they had planned to deliver¹ this year. The report confirmed that globally CIOs are struggling to fill essential digital skills placements especially in the big growth areas of cyber security, business intelligence, data analytics, AI, cloud and Dev Ops. 

These sectors represent the newer areas of IT which have expanded exponentially as organizations have embraced digital enablement and cloud delivery – so it’s unsurprising that recruitment hasn’t kept pace with demand far outstripping supply of candidates. Such is the concern, that a dedicated Gartner spotlight survey¹ conducted in late 2021 identified that shortages in IT talent are now being cited as the biggest barrier to tech innovation by CIOs and they could significantly slow the digital revolution. In the report, 64% of CIOs reported that lack of attainment of qualified staff as being the most significant barrier to adoption of innovation they had planned to deploy. In 2020, the same question invoked just a 4% response. 

Which factors have contributed to such a significant shift in CIO attitudes in such a short timescale? CIOs’ concerns have been heightened in the wake of Covid-19 when the finely tuned balance of recruitment desirability and loyalty pivoted from the employer to the employee with many employees stating that the pandemic has made them rethink their work/life balance in order to enable greater choices – reassessing priorities when it comes to issues such as remote working, commuting times and the desire to contribute more to family and society.  

Add these changing employee sentiments to an already-short supply of candidates and you have a perfect storm for restricted talent hire for digital adoption. Will it be solved by fresh recruitment from graduates or advanced college leavers entering the market? Serious government drives into promoting STEM subjects have only recently started making an impact, with nations pushing popularity within education. Universities have successfully boosted their overall Computer Science entrants by an additional 50% across a decade² whilst also adding courses to cover much needed specific skills in such dedicated degrees as Artificial Intelligence (there are now 224 undergraduate courses specific to ‘AI’³ in UK universities alone). But these encouraging undergraduate figures contrast with new research that shows a concerning earlier barrier to entry. The Learning and Work Institute’s latest research notes the number of 14-year-olds opting to take IT subjects at advanced school levels have actually dropped by 40% across a 6-year period. This could be through a lack of relatable role models especially for women in tech, alongside a lack of understanding about job roles and potential career paths influencing the choices made at school level. 

So, what are the ongoing IT skills gap strategies to adding more talent into the digital resource pool? Many steps have been taken to attract new sectors of society into IT including a recruitment drive to increase in diversity and inclusion of females, minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which appears to be paying off. Traditionally STEM subjects have been harder to access and even unpopular particularly for young female students and those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Change looks promising here. The UK government has recently revealed a 49% increase at undergraduate levels for female applicants across a decade of tracking. Even more impressive, is the increase of 79% for acceptances into STEM degrees from those classified as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. The barriers of access based on gender, class or race are gradually being lifted and are helping to fill some of the longstanding technology recruitment issues. And even with all this effort, the UK still has some ways to go in levelling up. In 2020, females made up 58% of all university applications, but for computing degrees, women actually only accounted for 17%. (The 2030 target being 30%). 

These are long-term initiatives. So, what happens then, before this talent pool is replenished with the emerging graduates of today and tomorrow? CIOs face stark decisions. Halt progression of digital enablement while the job market catches up so that skills can be adopted in house, or, alternatively, seek individual project manpower boosts from trusted partners who have access to pools of globally based, diversified, highly skilled and experienced IT resources available for individual projects or for full manpower substitution.   

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