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Solving the IT Skills Gap: The Fast Pass to a Successful Workforce

Carnivals bring thrilling rides, fun games and entertaining attractions, and as limited-time spectacles, they also bring an air of excitement. Yet, with all the hype that surrounds them, there is a lot at a carnival that is not what it seems. Rides, while exciting, can disappoint—like waiting in a long line for a short ride, or a topsy-turvy ride that leaves you ill. Carnival games—the ones with the luring, colorful prizes—look simple to win but rarely are. And, like the morphing effect of a fun house mirror, perception doesn’t always match up to reality.

The IT skills gap is also rarely as it seems. While the skills gap has sometimes been viewed as hype, IT leaders (80 percent) and IT professionals (78 percent) both agree that it is real. But they have vastly differing opinions on the reasons behind the gap. For their part, IT leaders say that the IT job seekers just do not have the skills they are looking for in candidates. Conversely, IT professionals believe they aren’t given a fair shot for some job opportunities because expectations and job descriptions are unrealistic. So is one side not seeing things clearly? Or is this disconnect itself the reason for the skills gap?

TEKsystems surveyed over 1,300 IT leaders and IT professionals across North America on their experiences. The survey takes a look at the IT skills gap and identifies areas where it impacts the organization, from both line-level and leader perspectives. This paper shares the survey’s findings and provides recommendations and best practices as to how to effectively manage the IT skills gap and mitigate potential negative impacts so IT leaders can more easily find their next hire and IT professionals can successfully land their next job.

Staffing the IT Team: A Never-Ending Merry-Go-Round

Only 1 in 3 IT leaders believe their organization has the skills in-house to address their needs. And this lack of adequate support is noticed, as 60 percent of IT leaders say the IT skills gap severely or moderately impacts their team or organization. This leads to some IT teams perpetually being in “hiring mode.”

IT leaders claim their biggest challenge in finding qualified IT talent is an unqualified candidate pool. They also believe there is a mismatch in skills needed versus the skills on the market and the small pool of candidates hurts their ability to grow their teams. Budgetary constraints also inhibit their ability to staff their teams; they often cannot afford to pay for top talent (57 percent).

When asked why finding a quality candidate is so difficult, 70 percent of IT leaders say that available candidates just do not have the right technical or soft skills they are looking for. Yet, only 1 in 4 IT professionals believe their lack of technical or soft skills was the reason they didn’t get a job. This divide keeps both parties stuck on a merry-go-round where the scenery (candidates or job opportunities) never changes.

The Job Search Process: A Mark in a Rigged Game

More than one-third of IT professionals are never given a reason why they didn’t advance in the hiring process. Instead, they must draw their own conclusions. Those that did receive feedback say they didn’t get a job for which they were considered because they had too much (26 percent) or too little (19 percent) experience, or they lacked the preferred technical skills (20 percent) or educational background (18 percent).

Interestingly, while 1 in 4 believes they weren’t hired because they had too much experience, only 3 percent of IT leaders say overqualified candidates are a factor in their hiring challenges. Without receiving feedback from interviewers as to why they aren’t offered a position, candidates are unable to use that information to enhance certain technical skills, soft skills or certifications.

IT professionals also think that poor job descriptions can make the job-hunt game seem impossible to win from the start. Forty-eight percent say it’s hard to find the right IT job because the technical requirements for positions are unrealistic, while 45 percent say the compensation does not match expectations and 41 percent feel the experience or expertise requirements are too niche or specific. IT professionals believe narrow or impractical requirements may cause hiring managers to miss out on highly qualified candidates that could still meet their needs.

The IT Skills Gap Problem: Lost in a House of Mirrors

IT leaders and IT professionals see a distorted picture when it comes to the IT skills gap. And this disconnect is making the IT hiring or job search process a bumpy experience for both parties: 81 percent of IT leaders report that is extremely or moderately difficult to find quality candidates, while 73 percent of IT professionals say they have difficulty finding IT opportunities for which they are qualified. The arduous process also takes longer than either side would like. About half of IT leaders (48 percent) and IT professionals (55 percent) say that finding IT candidates or opportunities always or often takes longer than anticipated.

The hiring process also impacts the day-to-day rhythm of the IT department. Sixty percent of IT leaders say the IT skills gap moderately to severely impacts their organization, compared to 45 percent of IT professionals. Nearly 7 out of 10 leaders and professionals do not believe their organization currently has the skills in-house to address their needs, and both sides believe this lack of support leads to decreased efficiency, as well as increased time to market / project completion.

Step Right Up: The Tickets to Bridging the IT Skills Gap

To improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of the IT hiring process, IT leaders and IT professionals need to take a clear, honest look in the mirror at what they both need and are looking for in order to find the respective candidates and positions that are the best fit.

Get off the Roller Coaster

Think ahead with workforce and succession planning

Maintaining a fully staffed IT team can feel like a roller coaster—demands rise and lower and unexpected turns can be right around the corner. A workforce plan smooths out the highs and lows of keeping a full staff, however, 63 percent of IT leaders don’t believe their organization has a strategic workforce plan to position them to successfully address IT hiring challenges. This is a real gap in management, as an effective workforce plan is a long-term and successful countermeasure against the negative effects of a skills gap.

A workforce plan that incorporates succession planning is the best preparation against the most common reason behind a team’s skills gap in the first place—attrition! In today’s business landscape, it is rare that employees stay with a company until they retire, or that the skills IT requires today will be the same in 10 years (let alone five or one). IT leaders need to be realistic that hiring talent will continue to be a challenge they face. To make the process less difficult, managers can create a formalized workforce plan that outlines how they can fill in skill gaps on their team in the most seamless and efficient way possible.

Once a formalized workforce plan and succession plan is developed, it must be continuously evaluated and updated. Since part of any plan is risk management, including strategic third-party staffing and outsourcing partners as part of that workforce plan is critical when unexpected gaps occur.

Take Aim at Smart Investments

Offer and take advantage of training opportunities

To win the IT staffing game, IT leaders need to have an up-to-date assessment of their current team’s skill sets, strengths and weakness, as some of their needs might already be available within their own organization. They might also find that new bodies aren’t needed; the current team might have the aptitude and bandwidth to cover the skills gaps with the right course of action. The majority of IT leaders (59 percent) offer training and development of their current workforce as a countermeasure against the skills gap.

Investing in training and educating current employees may not only help IT leaders meet their goals for a particular project, initiative or technology—it might also help them retain top talent. Employees appreciate when companies invest in their personal and professional growth, which will bring greater ROI in staff retention.

IT leaders should be transparent about training and onboarding opportunities available, as 2 in 5 IT professionals say their organizations do not offer technical skill-set training. Since IT leaders say they do offer this type of training, but IT professionals don’t perceive it that way, improving transparency, communication and reinforcement of training standards can help improve adoption, completion and comprehension.

Bring a Partner: No Solo Riders

Lean on third-party partners to fill real gaps

Ride operators know a thing or two about running their rides efficiently, which means no single riders—if demand exists, they must double up. Looking for help outside of the organization is another IT skills gap countermeasure used by over half of IT leaders. Fifty-six percent increase their use of temporary/ contract workers and 55 percent outsource IT projects, functions or initiatives to fill in their team’s gaps. An IT organization’s needs ebb and flow, and in order to perform during peak-demand times or support a major initiative—in addition to maintaining everyday functions— IT organizations need trusted partners on hand to quickly and effectively fill in talent gaps.

Developing effective staffing and outsourcing partners is a critical component to workforce planning. Staffing partners have a core competency in finding top-quality talent. They can fill short-term needs by providing talent that can quickly utilize their skills to fill an immediate need, as well as find contract-to-hire or direct placement candidates. When there isn’t talent available in-house to devote to a major project, an outsourcing partner can develop, run and manage an end-to-end solution to lessen impact on regular operations. For support in the job search process, IT professionals can lean on the help of a recruiter. Because recruiters work with lots of local employers, they often have knowledge of open positions before they are posted to job boards. Plus, they have inside knowledge at these companies, giving candidates a leg up during the application and interview process.

Soak Up Your Surroundings

Understand Your Local Market

When carnival-goers arrive at the fair, it is typical to do a walk-around to check what’s available before committing your time (and wallet) to any of the attractions. After all, why waste time and money on something that’s not worth it? Similarly, before committing to a job description, rate or announcement, IT hiring managers need a better understanding of their local market. What are other companies paying for similar skill sets? What is the cost of living? What do mid-versus senior-level professionals make? How many IT professionals have this skill set in their market?

A staffing provider who is an expert in the local market and has access to this information can help IT hiring managers develop more realistic job descriptions and budget needs. An IT staffing partner can also help align with the HR team on the budget so there aren’t delays once a good candidate is identified. Plus, if scarcity of local talent is an issue, a staffing partner can tap into their national network to find remotely located or H-1B professionals, or candidates willing to relocate.

While setting a competitive wage is critical to candidates taking an opportunity seriously, it is important to also recognize the importance of developing an employee value proposition. Nonessential benefits, such as flex time, paid training/education and vacation time, are also important to candidates because they want to envision a desired work/life balance when considering an offer. Also, look at past attrition to reassess the organization’s work environment. Negative experiences can easily spread via social media—63 percent of IT professionals say seeing between one and five negative posts about a potential employer would cause them to eliminate that employer from consideration.

IT professionals can also work with an IT recruiter to better understand what other candidates with a similar skill set and experience level are earning in their market. Since each local market is different, a salary they made in a different city or state may not be realistic in the market they are now in.

Look in a Real—Not ‘Fun’—Mirror

Conduct an honest skills assessment

Fun house mirrors don’t reflect reality. When building a job description, it can be tempting to list every skill and certification that the perfect candidate would need to be 100-percent successful at a job. After all, IT leaders want the best! However, this often sets IT hiring managers, and potential applicants, up for failure. It can shrink the talent pool of candidates, lengthen the hiring process and, if a perfect candidate is found, their salary demands may challenge the budget.

Instead, IT leaders should consider separating technical and soft skills into categories: required, preferred and ideal. By distinguishing skills that are critical to do perform the role’s day-to-day functions (required) from skills that would be useful in rare or unique situations (preferred or ideal)—the candidate pool will widen. Then, IT leaders can prioritize the preferred or ideal skill sets by whether they can be learned on the job (through co-worker-led training or mentoring) or by completing formal internal or external training. Also, leaders should consider adding weight to certain soft skills that may override the lack of certain technical skills, such as willingness to learn, dependability and communication.

IT professionals should also take an honest approach to their own skill sets. What jobs or roles are they being passed over for? Do the skills and certifications they have match the jobs they want? If not, then it may be time to take action to acquire those skills or certifications. If technical skills do match up, it might be time to assess soft skills, interview habits and whether their resume effectively connects their experience with the job description.

Claim Your Prize

To shrink the gap and mitigate potential negative effects, IT leaders and professionals need to educate themselves on the realities of their local labor market, take an honest skills assessment and open lines of communication. These simple steps will help IT leaders develop better recruiting practices and a mature workforce planning process, as well as better prepare IT professionals to develop their skill sets to make them more attractive to IT hiring managers.