Why IT Managers Need to Address Skills Shortages in Their Organizations

IT managers know that skills shortages in their organizations negatively impact business operations, yet—due to budget and time constraints—they do little to address IT skills gaps. Is there any way to fix this problem?

IT departments within businesses of all sizes and across a variety of industries are suffering from skills shortages. An overwhelming majority (93 percent) of IT and business managers surveyed by CompTIA earlier this winter attest to a gap between the skills their IT employees possess and the skills their companies need. 

The reality of an IT skills shortage isn't particularly newsworthy. It's been an issue for more than a decade. What is noteworthy: The quantifiably negative impact IT skills shortages have on businesses, and data that shows how inadequately IT organizations are addressing it.

CompTIA's survey on the "State of the IT Skills Gap," which I wrote about earlier this week, reveals that skills shortages inside IT departments hamper productivity, impair customer service, encumber new product development and speed to market, negatively affect profitability, and make companies more vulnerable to security threats.

Despite the problems IT skills shortages create, IT departments do little to seriously address it. According to CompTIA's data, only 15 percent of organizations have a formal process for identifying gaps in IT professionals' skills. More than half (56 percent) don't have any process for identifying potential skills shortages among their IT workers; 29 percent use an ad-hoc process for detecting skills deficiencies.

Even CompTIA thinks it's odd that IT departments don't put more focus on talent management: "Given the apparent scopes of IT skills gaps and the impact on other areas of business, it's somewhat surprising that most organizations don't have a process for or method for identifying possible IT skills gaps among employees," CompTIA writes in its "State of the IT Skills Gap" report.

The most common way IT organizations attempt to address the skills gap, according to 57 percent of those surveyed, is by providing training to existing staff in areas where their skills are lacking. The most common training method for IT staff development, employed by 50 percent of respondents, is online self-study.

Notably, 39 percent of IT and business managers surveyed don't think training does any good. They don't see any improvement in workforce performance after the training. This makes me think that the training they offer isn't effective.

Personally, I've never been a fan of online self-study. Online training modules put me to sleep, and they never seem to address my specific needs or questions. But that's just me. I've interviewed many IT professionals who prefer to study on their own, using online resources.

That said, I don't think IT management should leave training up to employees to pursue on their own time, especially when the skills gap is so large inside some companies and when it has such an impact on business operations. CompTIA's research makes it clear that IT managers and executives need to pay more attention to the skills gaps that exist inside their organizations. They need formal processes for identifying these gaps, and they need to figure out which training methods will most effectively address them, keeping in mind that not all IT employees learn the same way.

Of course, developing customized training programs for IT staff takes time, effort and money—commodities in short supply in most IT departments. But if managers can't find the time and make the effort to invest in existing staff, what can they find time to do?

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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