The strain of the skills gap is acutely felt by business, technology and hiring managers. Mitigating its impact largely falls to the individual business, but the global economic repercussions of failure should hasten an undertaking that cuts across industry lines.
In the coming decade, failure to close the skills gap could carve out $11.5 trillion in expected GDP growth from intelligent technologies across 14 of the G20 countries, according to an Accenture report.
Intelligent technologies, namely big data analytics, artificial intelligence, high-speed mobile internet and the cloud, are reconfiguring talent demands and the workplace, disrupting from within the businesses that implement them and the markets they permeate.
New technology inevitably creates friction with legacy systems and traditional workers. But it also begets new categories of jobs — or augments existing ones. If businesses can harness an agile and motivated workforce with the relevant skills, the bottom line will benefit.
But if the skills gap isn't addressed, technology adoption and business growth will suffer.
A special blend of technology and soft skills is the secret sauce to the modern worker, and businesses need to take an active role in reskilling and upskilling employees to meet these demands. These efforts are currently focused on a narrow subset of highly valued and skilled workers, according to a World Economic Forum report, but the rest of the workforce shouldn't be left behind.
Eyes on employers
More than half or workers lack basic coding skills, and more than one in 10 are not tech literate. But is this the workers' fault, or the employers?
While some responsibility falls to both parties, many employees expect employers to move both the business and their workers into the future. More than half of workers don't think employers are preparing them for future technology jobs — a responsibility that roughly 90% believe falls to the employer, according to a Randstad survey.
Some employers express weariness investing in employees and then losing that investment to another company offering a higher salary. But Will Markow, manager of client strategy, analytics at Burning Glass Technologies, poses a different question: What happens if you don't train someone and they stay?
If employers are proactively preparing for disruption, they can stave off some of the negative impacts. Even if some workers leave, an unavoidable reality of the marketplace, investing in the existing workforce can boost retention among other employees.
But the pathway is key, Markow said, in an interview with CIO Dive. If employers are training employees without a pathway for advancement, then those employees may want to leave too.
With new skills popping into the mix on an almost daily basis, fulfilling short-term needs is difficult. Companies are also tasked with figuring out what competencies they will need five or 10 years down the road, then filling these needs through training or hiring, Markow said.
Yet sometimes you just can't find the one expert you need.
Cybersecurity workers, for example, are in high demand and hard to get. But a variety of roles lie adjacent to core security jobs, such as network administrators, developers and help desk staff, Markow said. By looking for talent with 80% of skills needed instead of 100%, and filling the remaining 20% through adjacent roles, companies can still fill those needs.
To hire or to train?
Even if companies recognize the skills gap problem and hiring tensions, many aren't exploring the problem or mitigating it fast enough, and this could leave many players behind, Alisia Genzler, president and chief client officer at Randstad Technologies, said in an interview with CIO Dive.
Unemployment across many IT skill sets can run below 1% to 2%, so many companies have to blend hiring with reskilling, according to Genzler. Outsourcing and contracting can help fill short-term demands, but bringing in skills for the long-term is important to business longevity.
Strategies to hire, upskill and reskill are still mixed. Half to two-thirds of companies plan to use contractors, freelancers or other temporary workers to mitigate the skills gap, and nearly one-quarter of companies are not likely or undecided when it comes to retaining their own employees, according to the WEF.
Accenture recommended a three-pronged approach to tackling the skills gap that includes increasing experiential learning, moving from the institutional level to the individual and empowering vulnerable learners.
Training employees can take many forms, including:
- Interactive training with experts
- Rotation training that moves employees through divisions and/or groups
- Skills-based or point training versus holistic training
- Personalized, targeted individual training versus large group training
- Apprenticeships, internships and mentorships
- Outside resources, including massive open online courses or online tutorials
Hybridization of the workforce
The hybridization of the workforce has been playing out across business and IT. Skills that used to belong to distinct workers are being mashed together in existing or new roles, as demonstrated by the rise of DevOps and DevSecOps, according to Markow.
Technical workers are expected to have more soft skills than before, and as the silo between IT and the rest of the organization breaks down further, nontechnical workers increasingly assume more tech-related skills and responsibilities.
Communication tops in-demand soft skills for IT workers, followed by teamwork/collaboration, troubleshooting and problem solving, according to data compiled by Burning Glass Technologies.
Whether learning technical skills for the first time or increasing emphasis on human-centric ones, the hybridization of workers is pushing employees out of their comfort zones and building skill sets where traditional training infrastructure didn't previously align.
There aren't a lot of training programs that teach C++, Python and collaboration, Markow said, but perhaps there should be more. The dual focuses pushes employees to become more adaptable.