Filling the Critical Skills Gap in IT

September 08, 2016 | Post by David Hall | 10 Comments

Filling the IT Skills Gap

With all the excitement around technology advancements such as cloud services, digital transformation, robotic process automation and the Internet of Things, there is also a real issue brewing in the industry that technology may actually be ahead of the talent in the market – especially college grads and younger employees looking for the next step in their careers. Concerns are real that there’s a widening skills gap, but it’s also true that fantastic opportunities exist in places where some people aren’t looking.

It’s challenging for colleges and universities to keep pace with the extraordinary rate of change in technology and the skill sets they need to be teaching. Gartner and other analysts say we’ve seen more change over the past few years than in the previous two decades, just with the evolution of the cloud and digital transformation alone. Despite this drastic change, college curricula by and large have not yet caught up to the layers of training and specialization needed to prepare students for the opportunities awaiting them.  

Companies also have to deal with changing needs. If you were hiring 15 years ago, you’d have been looking for dBase, Oracle, SQL, COBOL, RPG and database programmers, and some companies are just now shifting to the skills for the next 20 years ─ converged infrastructure expertise, cloud assessment, the transition from on-premise to hybrid and cloud technologies and JAVA or Python expertise that operates mainly with mobile or cloud-based technology.

That’s not even talking about security, which is the underpinning of all of this and presents, by far, the biggest opportunity for anyone going into the tech market. Security has multiple subsets, from endpoint security, end-user/client devices, cybersecurity, data security, physical security and the security issues around the analog world switching to digital.

As a highly trained professional services executive, I find it difficult to locate the right skill sets for today’s IT positions. I can’t hire college recruits if they don’t have the skills and I don’t see a high mix of women and people in their twenties and thirties in our market. To me, that says we’re doing something wrong – especially considering all of the exciting IT career paths available today.

Educators and businesses need to catch up to the technology skill sets that students and younger employees need to qualify for leading-edge, well-compensated IT roles. (It’s no longer about just fixing computers or running service desk – this outdated view of IT is one reason some young people are leaving the industry.) A career in IT for the right talent represents a career-long opportunity (and potentially six-figure salaries) as skills, market forces and cool technologies continue to evolve.

Skills notwithstanding, college grads and younger workers feeling limited in their current jobs may be missing out on opportunities that already exist in the huge channel and outsourcing market, versus the commercial sector.

Unfortunately, we tend to use the commercial market as the barometer for jobs and salaries, yet the markets are all different and hiring criteria can also vary. Most survey data is generally focused on the commercial sector, which doesn’t reflect the larger market of VARs, integrators and channel, which employ as many in North America as the commercial sector. College grads following the data often focus on the commercial sector in their job searches.

I recently worked with a local college to help educators understand the skills gap and the tech training needed to address it. A survey conducted by the college targeted mostly commercial sector companies and the government sector only slightly. The survey missed the largest segment of the market: companies like CompuCom that employ tens of thousands of IT workers. CompuCom alone employs approximately 6-8,000 techs at a given time, compared to most commercial organizations – even large ones that typically don’t have more than 100 IT staff. We need to communicate to young workers that there are great opportunities outside the commercial sector. Job seekers, take note.

If I don’t have resources and college recruits don’t see the opportunities, then there is a skills gap that hurts us all. So the message from a guy running professional services is this: we can all do better to provide the skill sets that next-gen workers need – and to educate them on the broader markets for those skills.

If we don’t address the skills gap, we won’t have enough expertise to address market shifts, and we could actually slow the evolution of technology. We all need to pick up the pace and stay up with, or ahead of, the times!

Please send your thoughts on the skills gap and what you are doing to fill it.

The content and opinions posted on this blog and any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not those of CompuCom.

  • David Hall's picture

    David Hall

    As Executive Vice President, Professional Services, David Hall is responsible for delivering world-class Professional Services across all lines of CompuCom’s business.

Comments

I am one of the people who are a part of the frustrating IT hiring process. My educational skills are now a decade old. I wound up in the Transportation industry because I could not find work in the IT field. Although, my skills and training are in Networks and Databases, I was unable to get that initial job to get started. I am now trying to find that first job in an attempt to make a career change. I find the same barriers, some of which to touch on, in the is attempt. I agree, there needs to be an update and a bringing together of skills and industry needs. Great article that makes some very real and valid points.

I hear that all too often Jack, one thing to consider is looking into short-term programs and certificates being offered by many community colleges, tech schools and even private training institutions. For example, you may have already completed A+ certification from CompTia but are you aware they have additional cert's like Network + and Security + which provide strong fundamentals in each discipline. If you combine that with a 6-12 month program to obtain something like a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Admin) then you have a pretty attractive set of credentials to help market yourself. Additionally, select a Tech school or community college that offers co-op programs which makes placement much easier when you have put in the effort to obtain certifications. Certs will help with placement, once you secured a co-op position that enables you to write a stronger BIO or resume to better market and sell your skills….an individual who carries industry technical certifications with some practical experience! Marketing yourself then becomes a lot easier.

I would also recommend while you're completing a Security+ or Network+ cert, try taking a class in Python and or Java. These languages today for networking and cloud are similar to what JCL (JCL = Job Code Language) was to the mainframe of years past. Having basic programming skills for future utility writing etc for such things as Software Defined Networking will be an important skill!

It's a fantastic market once you identify your passion. There are many entry points, (look at a previous article I wrote on Top 5 IT Careers and the many entry points). Best of luck, I hope this info helps you identify one that will work for you!

Best regards,
David

David, your article has many valid points. The missing link is teaching our young people to think critically. The Science of Employment is what can you offer the company that you seek to work for and how can you positively affect the bottom line from day one. Our education system is mired in the idea that tests are the biggest factors for success in education. The biggest factor needs to focus on real world employability and entrepreneurship. The retention of information and the application of knowledge will help young people be successful for life.
Exploring the life of successful people in the IT field; most were prepared for the opportunity by consistently striving to learn about how technology works and mirroring successful people in that field.
As a CompuCom associate; I am always looking for ways to help my company financially and work with our teams for client success.
To the young people looking for a start in IT, work as interns if possible; seek out opportunities as Temps in the IT field to help garner experience and don't forget to seek out small businesses in the IT field as a way to build your experience and resume.
Thank you David for a good article.

Oh so true and very well said Michelle, thanks! We do see more and more that for many people the best way to learn, grow and retain is to perform! People learn different...many by touch, some by execution, some by studying and testing...we are all different :)! One reason why I am passionate about this field is because I truly believe it's a lifetime career for anyone. I agree with you completely...become an apprentice, find your passion and then it's a matter of selecting the right entry point into IT. It's ok if you move around to different fields, it makes you better!

I also very much believe in the approach of solving business challenges vs using technology to address a symptom! Solving Business Challenges for and with our clients is what I feel offers the most value (supports your comments about looking for ways to make things better!). Recognizing and solving for business challenges is a skill set that is built and improved on over time but the foundation is certainly established early on with our schools, community colleges and universities! We need to more and more take advantage of the knowledge base and use cases we build. Please review my thoughts on an article getting ready to release that I wrote on “Achieving Outcome based IT".

Thanks much for your comments!

Best regards,
David

michelle
your reply is showing that you have a somewhat backwards and late to the game thought on this. i wonder if it is from some bad HR book or degree you got. let me explain using the common sense of the people of people who are not going to getting trained for IT positions. people are THINKING CRITICALLY.

Why work IT? there have been many studies about students, the sciences and employment. here is one that actually makes sense and matters. people over time have looked at their environment, quality of life, pay, job stability and the ability to even get said job. more men are barbers and hairdressers than 30 years ago. now with these two factual sentences lets look into why the 2nd sentence is so. imagine you are a regular person. male or female. you have graduated from your not impressive high school, with no specialized curriculum to fast track you to college or into a company because rarely do companies partner with education any more. the american education system is a sinking ship that the world is laughing at. Plus, your family is not loaded with cash (liguid assests) to just say "here we'll cover that $80K loan for you." so what do you do? you rationalize.
so an IT career...
* a 4 yr degree minimum but 6yr is the new minimum to get real money from IT. lots of time and cash, IE, you have loans out the wazoo if you could even get them. business is saying that that degree is not enough because BIG ED is behind the times.
* so after all that time and now with massive debt. you try really hard to get a job just to pay back the debt and not eat ramen noodles for the rest of your life. but you can't because you do not have experience and the latest training. so if you get a job it is outside of your field totally and killing your future prospects. if it is IT related you are under paid and now creating more debt with tech boot camps (which have seriously low rates of success) or working two jobs or and trying to study.
see where this is going.
* i have to add in that you are competing against an army of H1B1s that have a wide range of backgrounds and education that is usually not accredited. did you know india has a serious lack of accreditation in its country? over 70% of its university and college graduates were considered not employable by "National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and National Board of Accreditation (NBA) working under University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE)."
* so once you even get through all that and you can actually work on database programing projects for large companies... that is the problem. large banks like capital one, wells fargo, suntrust and more do not hire you. you are on a contract so are not a permanent employee and do not paid like an employee and have none of the bennies like medical and PTO.
now lets look at that barber...
* goes to a cheap, cheap cosmetology class that is fast tracked or at community college that can be paid for with little to no debt.
* can be finished in under a year with legit accreditation
* only cost like 12 bucks a year to maintain your barbers registration with the state. instead of 8 different IT certs every 2 years costing $500 or more up to thousands.
* you can chose where you work much easier than IT.
* you can within 2 years of leaving high school actually make 50 or 60 thousand a year.
* you can also call the shots on when and where you work and with what clients.
* you get to talk to judges, politicians, cops, everyone. you have a finger on the pulse of you county and what is really going on in world and give real advice / opinions to those who shape where you live.
compare the two. it is not hard to figure out which is the winner. i still haven't even mentioned all the juicy stuff that drives people out of IT. notice how a lot of people in IT get salty or have huge amount of sarcasm to share. it is because it is one of the few jobs that eat at your soul by constantly being abused.
* companies do not understand IT. the higher you go in management the less informed it gets. all they know is that it is a black box with a piece of the budget attached. they need to know that the IT infrastructure is the vehicle of the company. stop paying for oil changes and maintenance and vehicles break.
* your the only person that can fix the problem yet people want you to stop working and pay attention to them yelling at you and calling profanities, useless and who know what else. then when you are done they want to someone that it took forever for the IT guy to do his job but leave off the part where he could not touch the laptop after a 10 minute was concluded.
* or no you can not fix the issue because you are NOT the email dept and have no access to those servers due to the companies own security polices and you are a contractor that works in another department.
* or how about the infamous "if it has a power cord it is your department". IT does not fix mechanical desk equipment for the handicapped or coffee makers.
* true story. your manager has no education or experience in IT. twice i have had managers with a 4 yr degree in acting. i guess the manager with education and experience cost more. also managed a video rental store in the 90's does not count as experience.
* and with all this mismanagement comes, "oops, we lost the contract". more than twice, bad management was the reason people lost their jobs yet their boss did not. yet, that boss was the reason. heck, one of them even got a promotion as he put mothers and fathers in the unemployment line. that is not how it goes for barbers.

And no one thinks " what can i offer the company and how can i positively affect the bottom line from day one." someone may say that and use it as a way to get hired, but no one really cares. they care about getting hired and getting paid, because everyone has bills to pay, food costs, and maybe even spouses and children who depend on them.

The skills gap is problem made for corporations by corporations. Prior to the shift of focus on short term profits and outsourcing, American corporations budgeted for training programs in PARTNERSHIP with colleges and universities. Colleges and Universities all across the country benefited from free equipment, software, training, and access to documentation and tech support provided by companies who wanted to ensure a good pipeline of skilled employees. Programmers, engineers, technicians, trades people, and more were "grown" from the American population of workers. This was done by companies FOR companies. This partnership allowed companies to have robust access to workers with exactly the skills those companies needed. How are those thousands of India Wipro workers CompuCom hired over the last 3 years working out? Maybe not so hot from the tone of this post.

The "skills gap" cries of American corporations are just "dog whistle" speak for corporations that are really saying "We want to justify our intent to double down on importation of H1B visa workers", and American citizens can rot.

Thanks for your comments Dave, the gap we face for skills in IT is worldwide. You're right that corporations and private institutions contribute a lot in the means of education to our community including our associates. For example, CompuCom offers associates access to hundreds of online training modules designed to improve technical and business skills. We also participate on a regular basis in assisting our communities and educational institutions. For example, I myself served as a volunteer for three years on the New Jersey EIRC, Educational Information & Resource Center. This institution is all about helping improve the access and levels or education to our communities across the State. In addition, I also currently serve as a volunteer on the IT Technical Advisory Board for my alumni, Delaware Tech in Wilmington, DE. There I have assisted with the curriculum and offered direction for their many IT programs and IT degree's.

In addition, we have officered support to a number of co-op programs within the local community colleges as well as to Drexel University. Other CompuCom locations have similar stories, in Paulsboro we have offered support for special projects for students and volunteer our management time assisting the school to advance their curriculum. This is the case in many locations across NA...and as far as donating computer equipment, we have many many times assisted institutions with equipment and services.

I do understand and respect your points but I also do believe the skill gap we face is a bigger WW challenge. India as well as other countries including the USA and Canada face these skill challenges. The root cause is made up from many reasons and maybe you're right that we don't all do as much as we did in the past...but I also believe it has much more to do with the fast pace growth of technology which is outpacing our ability to adopt fast enough (at least for now). And it's just starting....please read this fascinating book about technology and what happens when a product digitizes, The six D’s of Digitation (the examples are fascinating). The book is called...BOLD, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. This is an exciting and uplifting look about the future and growth of technology, and the many many opportunities for all of us!

Best regards,
David

I have several years of technical/help desk support experience within the IT industry in a Microsoft Windows environment. Recent grad from a private college in a 1 year Network Administrator Diploma Program. Also I would agree with everyone comments. Based on my personal experience within the IT industry and learning from the best IT instructors. The issue here is what really counts is more of the practical hand on exposure instead of intensive reading and on-line learning. Sure you need to know your theory which comes in hand in with the students technical practical hands on knowledge. As each day passes by technology is rapidly changing. Take the case of Windows Server 2016 R2 which no longer requires power shell scripting. A lot of Network and Systems Administrator's are really happy about it including myself. As a career change I had started in IT in 1999. I proudly remember this that I was the only full-time student in a program called Computer Service Technician Certificate Program. When I had completed reading the subject material and prior to siting in the exam room to write my on line- exam my IT instructor would ask me questions and then tell me after that I was ready to write the exam. This course was quite intensive and I had learned from various learning materials. The moral of my own personal experience is that all IT students and grads should be properly trained and be job ready upon their completion of their full-time IT studies. As well their IT study programs should be current and relevant to today's IT job market and within the future demands of the evolving rapidly changing IT industry.

I have mentored many people for decades, literally. I posted an article on LinkedIn that helps those looking to get their feet in the door.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mentoring-new-infosec-professionals-andre...

Thanks for the comment Andy, I read your article and it's very good. Mentoring is even more important now with today’s technologies and especially in a field like Security! Security skills as you know are cumulative from years of experience in different areas of IT and business. I've been lucky to see many of our associates as well as other folks in the industry start out at the ground level and build up their skills thru self-pace courses, local community colleges, volunteering as well as working with a mentor. Also helps to volunteer for special projects at work or for your community (all experiences help). Your article reinforces the benefits of identifying a framework that works for you as an individual to build up your skills...nicely done!

Best regards,
David

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