3 Ways to Close the Tech Skills Gaps… Maybe For Good
By Joshua Smith, Manager of Consulting Services
If you’ve recently lost sleep about how your company will be able to continue navigating the ever-changing and complex IT environment, then this post is for you. Yes, technology is advancing rapidly, and with each new paradigm shift comes more complexity and the need for new and diverse skills. This doesn’t mean you don’t need last year’s – or even the previous decade’s – skills anymore. To be clear, these are additive skills — you still need them all, and now many more. We see clients across the spectrum grappling with the gap as they realize the hurdles they have to jump on staffing to keep pace. Let’s just say, ‘The struggle is real!’
Functional Segments with the Largest Tech Skills Gaps
According to a recent Pluralsight study of over 1,700 IT professionals, the most significant tech skills gaps are cybersecurity and cloud computing, followed closely by data storage. Then follows gaps with skills in network infrastructure, telecom, social networking, business process automation, and business continuity planning. Leaders struggle daily with the gap as the pressure escalates to balance running operations smoothly around the clock with forward-looking innovation. Being understaffed and under-skilled is, quite possibly, an IT leader’s worst nightmare… maybe only behind a data breach.
The internal debates about solving the skills gap make things even more challenging. Do you try to hire FTEs with these specialties? Do you upskill existing staff? Do you outsource certain or all functions? Or do you deploy some combination of the three?
Creative Thinking to Close the Tech Skills Gaps
While there’s no correct answer here since it will depend on the details of your environment, current team, and business goals, there are certainly some rules of engagement that may help you assess the best path for closing the gap in the short-term and possibly as an ongoing operating model over the long-term… and maybe even for good. So here are three ideas on how to get there.
Source: Pluralsight, “2023 Tech Forecast: Build a Recession-Proof Tech Workforce” (December 2022)
1. Create a blueprint of your environment, including on-prem, in the cloud, and everywhere in between.
It’s far easier to assess where you have the right resources to lead or upskill versus where you need to find additional help if you have a clear view of your technology environment. Part of that process should include understanding the macro view of the company’s goals over the next 12-24-36 months, in addition to the micro view of all systems, users, applications, and data. If this sounds daunting to you already, then that’s an indication of exactly where you need to start.
Once you have a clear view, create a gap analysis to identify the in-house resources that are most likely to support various areas or be upskilled quickly, and close as many gaps as possible in the shortest amount of time. Part of closing the gaps with existing resources is to conserve budget and onboarding (or training) time. Once complete, you can better assess which areas are left uncovered and determine their mission-critical applicability to the business.
This step helps close the technology skills gap by more intentionally assessing internal resources and who can be upskilled quickly in the key areas where you have the most pressing needs. It also indicates what FTEs you want to budget for and requisition as soon as possible to get that process moving.
2. Identify non-mission critical tasks that could be outsourced to skilled and/or specialty labor.
Areas such as administering day-to-day IT support, network monitoring, system optimization, routine maintenance, and even level 1 support are often ideal for sourcing to a proven partner. Note that I say “skilled and/or specialty labor” because there’s a big difference between outsourcing specific IT tasks on a punch list versus resources engaged in operating more intelligently and proactively on your behalf.
While both options have value in different cases, the latter is better suited when you’re working to close a specific skills gap (or multiple gaps) rather than just getting a defined task list complete. These resources will typically have a discovery phase to understand your environment and business goals and identify challenges, risks, and potential improvements. They will also typically help maximize hardware and software investments, optimize licensing issues, and monitor the health and efficiencies of the environment.
As an example, one of our clients is a state that operates 89 public school districts supporting 70,000 students across 143 schools. As you can imagine, handling this much complexity is no small feat, and they were understaffed and underskilled, with a few new employees that were not yet up to speed on the environment.
They contract to get help with pre-scheduled as well as on-demand support, including monitoring the health of the entire environment, optimizing performance and storage across the environment, executing data backups, and spinning up virtualized environments.
If they have specific initiatives, we collaborate with their internal team to implement the plans. Specific tasks are offloaded, including proactive network health monitoring, targeted system upgrades and patching, and ensuring they leverage industry best practices while minimizing downtime.
All of that equates to more time for their team to focus on future-looking initiatives rather than fire-fighting or routine maintenance and monitoring. This client has now seen a marked reduction in resolution times, including when critical alarms, problems, and issues arise. They also have a trusted partner who knows their environment and can efficiently support them through major infrastructure refreshes.
Outsourcing to a partner also affords you flexibility in how you engage: onsite support (at some or all of your locations), remote only, hybrid (combo of onsite and remote), or fixed schedules where certain tasks are done on a predefined schedule. Such flexibility gives you the ability to make quick progress on immediate needs and adjust in the future as needs evolve.
3. Cross-train and foster agility across internal and external resources.
Sometimes rethinking your team’s structure and goals can make a tremendous difference in filling the skills gaps. Are there areas where employees could self-manage and automate across teams to break down silos, better cover at least some of the gaps, and achieve collective business goals, even if in unexpected ways?
Can you use the latest in unified communications software to streamline coordination to help speed resolution times and improve the support experience… without hiring or outsourcing? Could you identify segments of the business where non-engineering tasks can be moved from the engineers to other managers to free them to focus and possibly even expand their area of responsibility?
Thinking out of the box is really the name of the game here. As Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”
Here’s the point: thinking out of the box is really the name of the game here. As Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” While I’m not suggesting that you’re responsible for the skills gap, you’re certainly responsible for what you attempt to do about it. I’m also suggesting that using the solutions of last year and the historical organizational structure of the past may not be how to best solve it. In essence… It’s time to get creative!
If you would like to chat about how you might be able to get creative on heading off the skills gap before it has an impact on your business and how technology and skilled resources can be a game-changer, contact us to schedule a call. We’re happy to help.