By Eric Berridge
When I wrote that we need better training if we are to roll back offshoring and create jobs, many took issue with the assertion that anything but pure cost could possibly drive jobs to H1-B visas. In Is nearshoring the new IT outsourcing? I outlined reasons companies might keep IT domestic despite upfront savings. However, these belie the point to my call for training, which is really about how the introduction to the enterprise of social media, mobile, cloud computing and other next generation technologies is rewriting how business works, best described in Gartner’s recent call for “creative destruction” in IT. Many of the jobs I’m talking about are yet to be created and, if they’re not filled by U.S. applicants, these won’t go overseas but rather wll leave a talent gap that puts U.S. businesses at a competitive disadvantage. By training for these jobs, we’re not rolling back offshoring of specific positions, but potentially of entire businesses.
Technology is becoming fully integrated into and crucial to the average employee’s work, leading to an increasingly blurred line between IT and the rest of the business. This trend offers an opportunity for U.S. IT because it requires people who can fully integrate with the rest of the company, empathizing with the problems employees face and working with them to offer solutions. It also points out a glaring need for training as there is currently a limited pool of people who can pull off this balancing act, giving us a second talent gap.
Bridging the second talent gap: focus on the front-end
While IT used to be about maintaining the back end, companies are increasingly looking to the CIO to not just facilitate, but drive business, as evidenced in a recent Deloitte study. This “second talent gap,” therefore, is less about lack of mastery of a technology per se as it is lack of knowledge of how that technology maps to specific business needs. We’re in fact already seeing its emergence as multiple studies show companies claiming they can’t fill positions, despite high unemployment.
This kind of talent gap, according Dr. Peter Cappelli of Wharton, could easily be corrected with training. As Cappelli correctly asserts, the problem isn’t a lack of people capable of doing the job, it’s that the “job” often requires skills so specific that unless a candidate has held an identical position, they won’t have them. In the case of IT, the job in question often lies at the new and growing intersection between IT and business.
This leaves the field wide open for those who can creatively connect the dots between principles of IT, business and design. Consequently, this is primarily where the greatest need for training lies: creating IT professionals who understand how new technologies can best support a company’s specific processes, challenges, goals and culture.
Not your grandfather’s training
We’re not talking about pumping more people out of university computer science programs. This requires training that’s either on-the-job or close-to-the-job. If you’re thinking that collaborative business technology’s constant state of flux will make it difficult to stay on top of the skills required, you’re right. That’s precisely why it’s tough to envision universities stepping up in this regard — the institutions are too institutionalized.
In the face of the consumerization of IT, training will have to be as adaptive and ad hoc as Facebook. This kind of “moving target” training is best accomplished through e-learning, which leverages a digestible, modular learning process and can be quickly altered to address immediate needs.
The impetus to accomplish this is really on businesses, who’ll see the immediate benefit or cost — they are, after all, the ones complaining that they can’t find the right people. For the individual unwilling to bank their future career on company wisdom, it means taking advantage of every opportunity to expand scope of expertise into that world of overlap between IT and business, and seek out non-traditional training opportunities.
This effort to roll back offshoring differs from efforts of the past, however, in that the jobs we’re talking about require someone who can fully integrate with the company, making it less feasible for businesses to bridge the talent gap by looking offshore. In this case, if IT doesn’t step up, it’s companies — not just individual IT workers — that are in danger of going offshore, as American businesses are left at a functional disadvantage.
Eric Berridge is co-founder and principal of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book “Iterate or Die” along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.