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Trouble finding qualified techies? Retrain the ones you've got

IT organizations bemoan the difficulty of hiring specialized staff. Research suggests that too few of those companies are retraining existing employees to teach them those skills. That's silly.

IT hiring managers struggling to fill skill gaps may be overlooking a natural source of talent: their existing employees who can be strategically trained in hard-to-find skill sets.

As the complexity of in-demand technical skills increases, the size of the available applicant pool shrinks considerably. According to an exclusive survey on the IT workforce and hiring trends conducted by IDG and HPE in June, 28 percent of the 101 respondents have a harder time filling available positions now than they did three years ago. The reduced size of the IT applicant pool is especially problematic for larger enterprises (those with 10,000-plus employees), cited by 35 percent of the survey respondents.

The IT skills that are most in demand are the hardest to come by. The survey found that there is a smaller pool of qualified applicants to choose from for the most coveted areas of expertise, including cloud services (28 percent), data analytics (25 percent), security (30 percent), Internet of Things (17 percent), and multicloud/hybrid cloud integration (26 percent). Furthermore, even the available applicant pool falls short on qualifications: 22 percent of candidates are weak on skills in the cloud services and data analytics areas, while security (17 percent), IoT (21 percent), and multicloud/hybrid integration skills (33 percent) are also seriously lagging, the survey found.

It’s not just in the area of technical acumen that potential job candidates don’t meet hiring managers' hopes and expectations. The survey found that many applicants seasoned in cloud service expertise are weak on soft skills and business savvy (22 percent), for example. Those with in-demand knowledge of newer competencies such as IoT (34 percent) or big data analytics (31 percent) come up shy on relevant on-the-job IT experience—after all, those specialties haven’t been around long enough for journeyman-caliber technologists to acquire extensive expertise.

So, in the eyes of survey respondents, there is a limited pool of outside candidates. And the IT job applicants are perceived to have potential shortcomings in critical skills.

But don’t worry: You have more options than you realize, and they’re already in the building.

The inside track

An increasingly viable option for IT organizations is to reskill and train existing high-value employees to fill the gaps. Training talent in hard-to-find competencies has a lot of advantages.

To begin with, retraining personnel shores up the IT staff, particularly when the training is fine-tuned to the company’s particular needs. For example, a company planning a large-scale IoT project can choose conferences, training classes, or other resources that map directly to the organization’s own strategy. Do you aim to develop a smart city strategy? You can choose courses that incorporate the technology elements you need.

Employer-paid training has other long-term payoffs. It also engages employees and potential hires who are looking to bolster their credentials, add new skills to their resumes, and possibly add to potential earning power.

Tuition assistance, internal training, and focus on key growth initiatives are some of the more popular ways survey respondents empower existing IT employees. For one participant, reskilling employees does more than help address key skills gaps. It also goes a long way in attracting and retaining top talent. In the process, it differentiates the company’s IT workplace from those of its competitors. “We focus on internal mobility, mentorship programs, and reimbursement for certifications,” says the IT director who works at a Fortune 100 company.

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Of course, not every employee is a candidate for reskilling, especially in some of the more complex, emerging, or highly specialized areas such as cloud integration or data analytics. Those fields, along with other technical competencies, may require employees to seek formal certifications or go back to school to pursue in-depth graduate degrees. (Other specialties are more open to nontraditional career paths, such as IT security.) Because outside candidates with these skills don’t necessarily have any significant in-field job experience under their belt, however, it can be a smart and strategic use of training dollars to channel the investment to employees who already know the business, understand its culture, and have demonstrated loyalty to the company (at least by sticking around).

In fact, technical training and educational opportunities are a valuable retention tool for highly motivated and versatile employees. Robust training and education programs are also a carrot for attracting new employees, cited by 40 percent of responding companies, while soft skills and business training were viewed as a compelling company differentiator by 29 percent of respondents.

Additionally, the research found there is plenty of opportunity for companies to improve their training programs to aid in more effective recruitment and training. When asked to rank the opportunity their company presents for employees to participate in technical training programs and educational opportunities, 28 percent of the IT managers judged their organizations as fair, poor, or very poor. It’s worse for training in soft skills and business training, where 36 percent gave a similarly uncomplimentary ranking.

Source: June 2018 IDG/HPE survey of 101 IT executives with hiring responsibility

The bottom line

The talent crunch is emerging as a real obstacle to IT’s strategic goals and business alignment. But supplementing external hiring efforts with a serious internal reskilling initiative can go a long way in creating a brain trust that is capable of executing on the modern IT vision.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.