Mind the (skills) gap!

Mind the gap!

What gap?

We hear a lot of chatter about a growing IT skills gap, both here in the US and globally.  A recent New York Times article provided some statistics that were both frightening and illuminating. Approximately 20 percent of American adults don’t use the Internet at home, work, or school, and don’t own a web-enabled mobile device. While the government has funded a $7 billion effort to expand Internet access across the country, there has been little to no increase in adoption. Employment opportunities are increasingly web-based, but digital literacy rates have remained stagnant.

This gap is not only apparent in the general population, but also in the IT workforce. At the Center for Applied Insights, skills gaps often emerge in our studies as top barriers to success in specific fields. Our 2012 Tech Trends study, which surveyed more than 1200 IT professionals, found that only 1 in 10 organizations has all the skills it needs to be successful. This indicates a major gap – and when we talked to students and educators to get headlights into the future – roughly 75 percent of them report a moderate to major gap in their ability to meet the skill needs of the IT workforce.  If the workforce of tomorrow and their teachers are telling us the gap is this big – clearly there’s a problem.

There is also a major skills gap in the security realm. In “Cybersecurity education for the next generation”, we addressed the need for cybersecurity-related academic programs around the world. Less than 60 percent of the students and educators surveyed believe their academic programs address the creation and development of IT security practices for emerging technologies such as Mobile, Cloud, and Social Business.

Mind the gap!
Technical, analytical, business, cybersecurity, and IT skills are needed to bridge the current skill gap.

How can we close it?

Forbes, like the New York Times, wrote an article about the skills gap, emphasizing the disconnect between traditional education institutions and the current, fast-changing job market. Bottom line: institutions aren’t evolving as quickly as they should; only 42 percent of employers believe recent graduates are ready for work. Forbes’ solution? Job seekers must take it upon themselves to develop their own skills, by utilizing online resources. At the same time, companies must invest in comprehensive training programs for their diverse group of new employees, and make job requirements clearer. Noticeably absent was a suggestion for how traditional education institutions can improve. IBM has a tactic to address this. Ad Age featured a story on how IBM, in partnership with its clients, works with academic institutions to design programs that prepare students for real world IT work experience. Examples of these programs include integration with GM at Michigan State, and GlaxoSmithKline at Yale.

At the IBM Center for Applied Insights, we’ve looked at the IT skills gap from both the supply and demand sides. In terms of demand, our Tech Trends paper provides suggestions for IT leaders and practitioners on how to close this gap. For IT leaders, we suggest encouraging skill development across a range of disciplines, designing diverse teams and using social tools to assemble expertise, and extending the skills mission beyond IT, making business leaders smarter consumers of analytics. For practitioners, we suggest concentrating on integrating expertise and deepening specialized skills while broadening knowledge across new areas. Practitioners must combine areas of expertise to deliver more value, strengthen business acumen, and use social tools to solicit and supply expertise.

On the supply side, we discovered that cybersecurity education programs are entering a period of transformation. In order to work in concert with today’s demands, we suggest five key initiatives. (1) Increase awareness of security across the academic community, and produce more graduates from cybersecurity programs. (2) Treat security education as a global issue. (3) Approach security comprehensively, linking technical to non-technical fields. (4) Seek innovative ways to fund labs and pursue real-world projects. (5) Advance a “science of security”.

As technology continues to rapidly transform, skills gaps will continue to emerge. While we won’t try to tackle the 20 percent of non-Internet users in the US population, we in the Tech world have the tools to bridge the gaps in the IT workforce. We must be innovative, adaptable, and forward-thinking.  What are the next skills gaps that we’ll explore? Stay tuned for more studies from the Center for Applied Insights that address this skills gap, specifically looking at IT leadership in Africa.

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