IT Skills Gap Calls for Long- and Short-Term Fixes

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By Genevieve Douglas

Sept. 29 — Employers need to address the information technology talent shortage with two main strategies—working with education institutions to ensure that incoming workers are trained with needed skills and providing training to employees who currently perform IT functions—speakers at a panel hosted by STEMconnector said.

Labor markets have traditionally been affected by economic cycles, but today, there are structural impacts to the labor market that are creating obstacles for businesses, such as aging workforces, new technology, new needed skills and an increasingly global economy, Jonas Prising, chairman and chief executive officer of staffing firm ManpowerGroup, said Sept. 29. These factors are “putting a lot of strain onto educational institutions, organizations and individuals,” Prising told attendees.

The challenges exist for large and small business alike, said Greg Cappelli, chief executive officer of Apollo Education Group. Fortune 500 companies say their biggest struggle for growth is filling key IT positions and retaining that talent, and closing skills gaps for IT and STEM workers could add “trillions of dollars” to gross domestic product, Cappelli said.

To ensure that the next wave of incoming IT workers is appropriately trained with skills businesses need, higher education institutions need to work more closely with employers to make sure educators understand what the job market’s needs are and that students have the fundamental training and skills necessary to get the jobs of tomorrow, Cappelli said.

Intervention at every school level can go a long way in encouraging future generations of workers to pursue careers in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—said Rebecca Haley, vice president of human resources for Genesis Healthcare. “We need to find a way to start much earlier with children, even elementary age, to encourage more diverse candidates to pursue STEM careers,” she said.

Short-Term Strategies

In the short term, however, companies should invest in training and career development programs that give current employees the opportunity to develop needed skills, panelists agreed.

Over the past couple of years, executives across the globe have realized that “this is a heightened issue and we’re at a crisis point,” said Dale Jones, president and CEO of executive staffing firm Diversified Search. Internal training programs are the solution to compete in the marketplace, he said.

Twice as many employers today are starting to create their own talent pipeline as a year ago, because they know they will not be able to execute their business strategy if they don’t have talent with necessary skills in place, Prising said. It’s no longer as simple as paying more for workers when there is a shortage of talent, he said. The evolution of skills—and how quickly they are evolving—means that skill sets are the real obstacle, he said.

However, Prising and Jones both emphasized that part of training employees internally means creating a company culture that values those workers so that they stay. It won’t solve the skills gap problem to train employees who quickly leave to work somewhere else, they said.

Jones said company leaders need to set the right tone at the top to create a culture that values career development and training. “There has to be a culture of investing in employees, to make them feel valued and engaged,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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