Solving The Challenge: The IT Sectors With the Biggest Skills Shortages
We are currently amid a skills shortage in the IT sector that does not seem to be getting any better. The majority of today's organizations are struggling to find the right talent. Nearly half of today's organizations anticipate updating their products or service offerings in the next few years to keep up with emerging technologies.
As these new technologies grow in popularity, there will also be a growing demand for skilled and qualified IT professionals. This need will only become more crucial as there continues to be a reliance on technological services. No matter where IT leaders look, the current IT workforce still lacks the skilled candidates who are needed to help fill the number of available positions that organizations are more than ready to fill.
Which IT Sector Is Experiencing The Biggest Skills Shortage?
''Right now it seems that the largest IT skill shortage would be cyber security skills. The rapidly changing landscape of ransomware and other cyber threats, has created a hasty demand for new and skilled workers. Not only is the field growing because of new security technologies, but immediate threats have created an instantaneous demand for workers to hit the ground running'', said Nick Martin, Director of Managed Services at Mainstreet IT Solutions.
Alexander Freund, Co-Founder, President, and CIO at 4IT also shared the same view about the cybersecurity sector experiencing the biggest skills shortage.
In a conversation with Matt Bullock, VP-Technical Sales at Accelera IT Solutions, he highlighted that the network IT sector is one sector where there is a shortage in skills. ''We see the greatest need for better skills in the entry and mid-level networking technician position. The basis of all IT monitoring and management, including data management, starts with a great understanding of basic network skills'', shared Bullock.
In conversations with other leaders in the IT industry, we uncovered that the network IT sector is not the only sector affected by the skills shortages. ''As a larger MSP in the Chicagoland area, we are seeing a shortage of field engineers. This role is essentially the onsite support engineers that deal with the servers, infrastructure, wireless, break/fix and many other "onsite" services in the technology realm, said Matthew McCann, Chief Operations Officer at ExcalTech. ''We can say that cloud technologies like Azure and Amazon will be at the top right now'', added Jorge Rojas, Partner at Tektonic.
What's Behind The Shortage?
Low salary increases, workplace culture, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other factors are only a few of the driving factors behind the shortage. In conversations with IT leaders, we gained insight into why there continues to be a shortage of skills in the industry.
''Most technicians, when entering the IT services field, do not get career planning help and aren't seeing the needed progression through the required certifications (A+, then Net+, then Sec+, etc.). Newer technicians often aren't encouraged to get a strong networking background, which makes future learning easier'', said Bullock.
''One word, COVID-19. Since COVID-19, the marketplace and workforce have changed. A lot of technicians have become comfortable sitting at home doing 100% remote work and no longer want to travel to client sites or deal with traffic. We have all got a bit spoiled over the past year and now the "normal" pace is returning to normal and people are re-thinking what they want to do. Our business model and most that work in our industry will always have a need and demand for field engineers'', said McCann. ''The pandemic has caused an explosion in the usage of cloud services. Companies that were reluctant to move, find it now hard not to'', added Rojas.
''The unfilled demand for cybersecurity skills was already a major problem before the pandemic began, and the skills shortage was not just an issue in the US, but internationally as well. The pandemic has added additional fuel to the already raging cybersecurity skills shortage fire because of the increased risk associated with the number of employees who are now exclusively working remotely'', said Freund.
''Another obstacle to filling the shortage is that the IT field is broad, so it also creates a competition of which direction a worker wants to develop his/her skills. Workers can develop their skills for servers, network, wireless, cloud technologies, cyber security, IoT, etc., so there becomes this natural internal competition in the IT field that can sway workers into another direction'', said Martin.
What's The Best Way To Cope With The Shortage?
''The best short-term strategy is to contract with an IT services company for those skills you need immediately. Although this may be slightly more expensive, it is much faster and more flexible than recruiting. In the long term, the best way to cope with the shortage is to have a robust internal training program that allows existing IT staff to upgrade skills and fill open positions'', said Freund.
''Our firm is doing what we can to reduce exposure and times at client sites. More remote service appointments, more after-hours work, and we have gone above and beyond by using automation to streamline many items that were previously done by hand. I think we also see some of the newer graduates more focused and moving up the ranks as they are willing to do what is needed not only for a bump in pay but to get the hands-on training and experience'', shared McCann.
''Companies need to take initiative in prioritizing this field as valuable to prospective workers. Companies like Microsoft, CrowdStrike, VMware, and many more are helping to bring awareness of the cyber security field and its potential. Many of these companies are also collaborating with one another to help fill the gap that is currently there'', said Martin. ''It seems that where opportunity waits we will find that people are willing to go out and fulfill those opportunities. As long as companies continue to prioritize IT cyber security, we will see the field filled properly'', Martin continued.
''Understanding the need for strong networking skills needs to start in high school, with career and technical education courses, then in college or technical schools where strong networking skills should be a large part of the curriculum for any computer-related classes'', said Bullock.
Rojas shared that he is currently not sure what is the best way to cope with the current shortage. ''We are experiencing problems filling out positions, perhaps partnering with training facilities or hiring fresh blood and sending them for training'', said Rojas.
What's Best Not To Do?
When asked what should not be done to address the skills shortage, McCann stated, ''I see the posts each day with the titles of "how do you want to work now?" I am sure most people want to work remotely, go to the office when they want to and earn the same amount of income. There are tons of reasons why this is a bad idea for a service-based business, but I also understand the daily grind and trying to avoid the repetition.''
''COVID-19 was a unique situation and probably something we won't soon forget. I have to balance the benefits with ensuring our clients are taken care of, and also ensuring that our staff development, training, and information share is top-notch'', added McCann.
''Don't burn out your existing staff by making them work longer hours to cover for the unfilled positions. This can be done on a very short term basis if the team is dedicated and well managed, but the tendency is to let this go on indefinitely until more staff exits because of burnout'', said Freund.
Bullock stated, ''Strong networking skills are best taught as part of the larger IT services environment, showing the relationship between IT management and data management and correct networking principles. Networking shouldn't be the sole focus as it can turn off many technicians at first.''
Rojas shared that it is best not to ''just sit and wait - the more you wait, the more you will fall behind.''
''If MSP's and senior technical staff help entry-level technicians to understand the importance of great networking skills, the overall IT environment across all companies will run better and be more resilient.''- Matt Bullock.
''There is a shortage of talent across the entire industry. Maybe the pandemic has made this worse.'' - Jorge Rojas.
''Don't be afraid to look outside the US if the skills you are looking for are simply unavailable. Although the international market is also plagued by IT skills shortages, you can enjoy great success with international hiring if you are willing to make a commitment to hiring and offering great careers outside the US.'' - Alexander Freund