Close this search box.
Close this search box.

3 Creative Ways To Tackle The Yawning IT Skills Gap

© AdobeStock
There is no easy solution, and every option comes with trade-offs and requires investment. But the alternative is to fall further behind the competition as IT talent flows elsewhere.

It’s a great time to be a software developer, data analyst or cybersecurity professional. Not so much if you’re one of the many employers in the tech sector and beyond facing intense competition in a growing struggle to attract and retain IT talent.

The IT skills gap has rarely, if ever, been bigger, posing a potentially existential challenge for companies at a time when technology is advancing rapidly and becoming ever more essential to success.

IT has been one of the few job categories to weather the pandemic well. As of last August, the unemployment rate for IT professionals was 4.6%, around half the national U.S. rate. The levels of spending on information processing equipment and investment in software were 23% and 7.4% higher than their pre pandemic trends.

In a 2019 survey of 3,000 technology leaders, 67% said they were struggling to find the right talent, with data analytics, cybersecurity and AI cited as the scarcest skills.

In some ways, the challenge is even more acute for companies outside of the tech sector. Tech firms, led by giants like Google and Amazon, may be willing to pay a premium for IT talent because it’s their core business. For employers in sectors like retail and manufacturing, it can be harder to justify the costs, even as tech is becoming increasingly crucial to their future.

Here are three things to consider when hiring IT talent:

1. Rethink where your next IT hire could come from.

Having a strategy to narrow the IT skills gap should be a priority for almost every organization. It demands creative thinking and bold new approaches to hiring, retaining, re-skilling and up-skilling workers.

There’s no silver-bullet solution. Rather than coming up with solutions to address one aspect of the problem, companies need to take an integrated approach that tackles the full spectrum of issues related to IT skills.

That includes workforce diversity, which is increasingly becoming a core strategic issue for companies. The IT field tends to be less diverse than others, creating both a challenge and an opportunity for employers to solve for both problems at once. Many organizations, unfortunately, fail to successfully unlock talent pools from typically underrepresented segments of the population.

2. Consider dropping the college degree requirement for new hires.

Employers need to rethink about how to expand and increase the talent pipelines that lead to the IT roles they need. A first step is to fish for talent in a much bigger sea than the traditional four-year college degree holder.

Degrees are often less needed for IT jobs than other roles, which may require more managerial and soft skills. Many tech CEOs have said the lack of a degree is no barrier to success at their companies, and it’s not unheard of for them to hire talented coders straight out of high school.

Investing in re-skilling non-degree holders to make the transition to in-demand tech jobs not only helps solve the IT skills gap, but it helps to create a more diverse IT department.

However, these programs can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. Employers need to tailor them to the gap in skills that individual workers need to bridge depending on their existing IT skills, aptitude and experience.

3. Add apprenticeships and mentorships to develop talent.

Turning non-tech workers into IT experts is far from impossible, though. At the University of Phoenix, for example, we are working with Woz U to offer individuals in their apprenticeship program a pathway to a degree.

The key entry requirement for this program has nothing to do with tech skills; rather, it’s the individuals’ aptitude for the IT field and their willingness and capacity to learn.

IT apprenticeships are an increasingly popular and effective way of expanding the tech-talent pipeline. Apprenticeships combining on-the-job experience with education allow employers to augment new hire practices for entry level positions and better leverage the talent among their staff starting a career in IT.

The commitment this demonstrates to employees should also result in more staff loyalty and engagement, and ultimately higher retention rates, helping to solve for another piece of today’s IT skills puzzle. Some states provide tax incentives for apprenticeships programs that make them an even more cost-effective solution.

A less formalized version of this could be achieved by introducing mentorship programs within IT. These programs can help reduce attrition by keeping employees engaged and invested in their development, while giving employers better oversight of their talent pool. The more hands-on and engaged a company is in nurturing and developing its IT talent pool, the better the results will be.

In conclusion there’s no singular easy, cheap solution to addressing the IT skills shortage. Every option comes with trade-offs and requires investment, whether that’s in the administrative overhead needed to set up an apprenticeship program or the need to carve time out of workers’ days to make a mentorship program work.

But the alternative is to fall further behind the competition as IT talent flows elsewhere.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.