By the numbers, the IT skills gap seems easy to understand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be nearly 4.8 million computer-related positions by 2026, a steady increase of 13 percent over 2016.1 Add in the fact that only about 60,000 people are graduating in the U.S. each year with a computer-related bachelor’s degree of any kind, and it’s no wonder why there’s so much talk about the IT skills gap.2
But it’s not just about a lack of people. Companies and individual employees alike are being constantly bombarded by the ever-increasing pace of technological development, making the task of playing catch-up a constant challenge for IT professionals at any level. In a 2017 survey by CompTIA, there was near consensus among respondents about the IT skills gap, with two top concerns: 1) Too many workers lack advanced skills, and 2) segments of workers are falling behind.3
Part of the solution to the IT skills gap may lie in educational institutions updating their curricula more quickly to match the pace at which technology is evolving. In the meantime, there are things both companies and IT professionals can do to help bridge the IT skills gap.
What can IT professionals do to set themselves up for success in the IT industry?
Think outside your IT job title
IT is moving at a fast pace. Case in point: Amazon Web Services released 497 new services and features in the last quarter of 2017 alone.4 Companies need professionals well-versed in these kinds of skills and able to keep up as they quickly evolve. There currently aren’t enough, and the data shows that competition is fierce: Of the top 15 highest-paying IT certifications in 2018, five are for the AWS platform. These five certifications all earn above-market rates, with the average salary being a little more than $125,000.
At the same time, organizations are increasingly expecting IT to be a trusted, strategic partner to the rest of the business. These two seemingly opposing trends mean that IT professionals are best positioned when they have both specialized, in-demand skills as well as generalist chops. The latter is not merely for executives or managers; at any level, IT professionals seeking an edge should be looking for ways to align IT’s day-to-day practices, systems and processes with the entire company’s strategic goals.
Take ownership of your own career path
In an ideal world, we would all know exactly the skills and knowledge that will be most in-demand now and forever. Here in reality, you must be and should be the person most invested in your own career growth and training. Take an active role in trendspotting and researching what will be most useful for you in your field and specialty. If you work for a company that provides a development budget and opportunities to learn new skills or technologies, use them! If not, budget the time and money to invest in yourself. Or if you are currently looking for new opportunities, explore what certifications and trainings will help you signal to potential employers that you are being proactive and doing what it takes to stay ahead of the game.
What can companies do to meet the IT skills gap head on?
Develop a plan to identify and address your IT skills gap
At the risk of stating the obvious: Any organization that doesn’t know its own talent and skill needs cannot expect jobseekers to know either. Yet among respondents to CompTIA’s survey, only one in three organizations had a formal strategy to address their IT skills gap; the rest had either an informal strategy or none at all.5 But no matter where your organization is or what it needs, it’s never a bad idea to start with the basics. A key part of this process should be keeping track of the going rate for new IT skills. Where supply and demand meet for the hottest skills may not work with your budget, so consider your options, whether hiring, outsourcing or finding another way to gain the capability.
Remember that one size doesn’t fit all
Many companies have development budgets and allowances for employees to keep current with trends and learn new skills. Employers can use these to both reward motivated talent and incentivize continued learning, chipping away at the skills gap in the process. But keep in mind that people have different ways that they learn best, whether through traditional classes, independent study or hands-on workshops, so a little flexibility can go a long way.
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Extend your team with a service provider
Even for organizations with robust strategies for meeting their particular IT talent needs, it can be difficult to stay on top of it all. Partnering with a trusted IT service provider can bring you the capabilities, knowledge and experience you need but wouldn’t necessarily be able to acquire through hiring or professional development without great cost and effort. For instance, organizations dipping their toes into the cloud for the first time may not want to invest in net new head count or certification training. Yet they still need their hyperscale, multi-tenant cloud environments to be deployed and managed without a hitch. Enter Managed AWS and Managed Azure service providers, who can act as an extension of your team, ensuring all your environments are optimized for the needs of the workload.
Patience, patience, patience
Whether you’re an organization trying to meet seemingly ever-shifting talent needs or an IT professional just looking to get a leg up on the competition, being patient is just as important as being proactive. Aligning budgets and resources takes time—even when everyone is on the same page—and so does learning new skills, even if you know which ones to focus on. No one company or individual can “solve” the IT skills gap, but there are things both can start doing today that will make a tangible difference in the future.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational projections and worker characteristics,” Retrieved May 2018.
2. National Center for Education Statistics. “Bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study,” Retrieved May 2018.
3. CompTIA. “Assessing the IT Skills Gap,” May 2017.
4. ARN. “AWS released 497 new services and features last quarter,” February 2018.
5. See note 3.