Editor's Note: The following is a guest article from Jody Bailey, CTO of PluralSight.
There's a "skills gap" problem in the U.S. job market, and business leaders would be wise to embrace the theories of Charles Darwin and the practices of John Deere if they want to narrow that gap and survive deep into the 21st century.
Darwin, of course, believed that organisms survive by adapting to change. His words are also relevant for John Deere, a 181-year-old tractor company that has become a data company today. The company sells sensors that tell farmers when and where to plant their seeds and fertilize, all through their Deere equipment.
Deere & Company understood it had to adapt to changing technologies and business practices. Likewise, today's skills gap — generally defined as the difference between the skills businesses want from their employees and the actual skills the employees have — can only be corrected by adapting to unprecedented technological growth.
The skills gap is not really anybody's or any one thing's fault. Technology changes come so fast it's difficult to keep up.
And, as the McKinsey Global Institute noted in a May 2018 Discussion Paper, the demand for technology skills will only increase: "Through 2030, the time spent using advanced technological skills will increase by 50% in the United States and by 41% in Europe."
McKinsey also predicts that the need for advanced IT and programming skills could grow as much as 90% between 2016 and 2030.
The technology skills gap is threatening every company's ability to survive. Rapid, nonstop advancements in such areas as IT architecture, big data, business intelligence and analytics, database administration, cloud technologies and security solutions are being incorporated into businesses of all sizes faster than workers are being sufficiently trained to use them.
Specifically with regard to programming and application development skills, a company will know it's at risk when it starts experiencing, for example, inconsistent release cycles, too many bugs in released products, and a decrease in revenue due to lost business.
Simply put, employees need to adapt to the speed of technological change, and it's technology business leaders' responsibility to lead those transformational initiatives. Skills-gap problems need to be addressed as soon as they're identified.
Here are three ways to recognize its signs:
Sign 1: Key developers are one-dimensional
If project deliveries or issue resolutions take longer than expected, it could be that an organization has hired for granular or single-skilled positions in the past — and those hires haven’t been trained to use newer technologies that many jobs require.
Similarly, engineers could be using outdated coding languages, or coding in languages that were intended to be replaced by more up-to-date methods.
Sign 2: Employees have difficulty solving problems
With so many innovative new technologies in the market today — and more entering the business world every day — there is no such thing as a project that "can't be done." If a business is hearing that, it's probably more likely engineers don't know what tools to use.
For example, one developer may be an AngularJS master but may not be as fluent in ASP.NET. As a tech leader, it's important to know which skills are most in-demand and what languages or frameworks teams need to use.
More to the point, knowing the skills that are in demand can help technology business leaders sufficiently cover the competitive landscape, but they also need to know what those skills need to be used for and how to acquire and develop that talent.
Sign 3: Employees are unmotivated
Curiosity fuels innovation. If individuals on teams keep trying to solve the same problems the same way, it's a safe bet they're not feeling particularly inspired. For example, a team that continues to manually test and deploy large projects, resulting in infrequent releases.
An inquisitive, productive team, on the other hand, would investigate new test automation and deployment tools to simplify processes. Or, perhaps adopt new cloud technologies or learn how to break large monoliths into microservices that can be decoupled and released independently.
Either of those scenarios could indicate a lack of commitment — another sure sign of a skills gap.
It’s critical as business leaders to watch for signs of the skills gap. Closing it requires a willingness to adapt, evolve and change. That includes creating a culture of learning in which leaders continue to provide ways for employees to acquire the latest skills.
It's not just a matter of survival — it's about ensuring continued success. Certainly, Darwin would approve.