by John Harris

Plugging the IT skills gap from within

Feb 23, 20123 mins
IT Leadership

The IT skills gap is a hot topic at the moment. Much of the discussion focuses on skills in education, but there is a crucial piece missing in our attempt to plug the gap: what about the people who have been through the system and are already working in IT?

In my view, learning is critical to the success of a business and mentoring has a very important part to play in developing new skills.

Schemes are already in place in many companies, but a lot of them are failing to provide the breadth of skills and knowledge needed to create a talented and innovative industry and ensure a successful future for UK IT.

We need to increase the scope of IT mentoring and provide opportunities for employees to experience different cultures and working environments, and not just within their own organisation.

At The Corporate IT Forum, we have just launched a cross-company mentoring scheme.

This involves bringing together people at different levels across different industries and having them mentor one another.

This is not just about the senior employee feeding knowledge to the junior employee.

It is also an opportunity for seniors to learn from emerging generation Y talent, so we think there’s every chance these relationships will develop into strong mutual partnerships

The learning shared between sectors is invaluable — public and private sectors are often different in structure, but face similar challenges at the coalface, so sharing experiences often opens up new thinking.

Access to experience and advice from multiple sources in multiple contexts also allows us to develop a more rounded view on important issues, such as security.

Something I particularly rate at the moment, from a risk and security standpoint, is being able to talk to some of the government agencies.

It gives a different perspective, one that I might not be aware of sitting in my own organisation with my single company focus.

In the IT department at GlaxoSmithKline, we make it clear that we want everyone to spend at least one day a month outside their normal job, to learn and grow; and I know that other companies have similar approaches.

I think the key is to create the right environment within a company’s culture, where people are encouraged to find a way of learning that helps them.

Another way to boost mentoring programmes is by rotating people around the different positions and functions of a company at the start of their careers.

This allows people to learn a variety of skills and understand the different working environments early on.

For me, learning is a bit like getting fit.

You get some people who say they don’t like going to the gym or can’t afford a gym membership, but actually, that’s not really acceptable.

There are hundreds of ways you can get fit — you can run, play tennis, jump on a trampoline, ride a bike, or even walk the dog. It’s not just about the gym.

And learning is exactly the same; we need to encourage people to look at the myriad of opportunities that are available to help them learn.

John Harris is Chairman of The Corporate IT Forum and Head of IT Strategy at GlaxoSmithKline