3 Creative Ways To Tackle The Yawning IT Skills Gap

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.