Bridging the gap
The skills gap is one of the most serious issues facing the technology industry and has led to IBM revealing plans to skill 30 million people in the next nine years. Is it the beginning of a trend?
The widening talent gap represents one of the generational issues facing the tech industry. A recent survey from research and advisory giant Gartner reported that IT executives see the talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies.
As one of the world’s leading tech organisations, IBM announced that it is taking matters into its own hands in October, revealing plans to equip 30 million people with technology skills over the next nine years. The programme will cover more than 30 countries across the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Clearly, 30 million people is more than even a business the size of IBM will need — it employs around 345,000 people — and it cannot do it all alone. Key to the plan is establishing a clear roadmap that is underpinned by more than 170 new academic and industry partnerships.
These will include collaborations with universities, governments, and NGOs, particularly those that focus on groups such as underserved youth, women, and military veterans.
“Talent is everywhere; training opportunities are not,” said Arvind Krishna, IBM Chairman and CEO. “This is why we must take big and bold steps to expand access to digital skills and employment opportunities so that more people — regardless of their background — can take advantage of the digital economy.
“This will help democratise opportunity, fill the growing skills gap, and give new generations of workers the tools they need to build a better future for themselves and society.”
The move from IBM is hugely important: for all the talk of the semiconductor shortage the skills gap represents an equally serious and longer-term issue and closing it could add $11.5 trillion to global GDP by 2028, according to the World Economic Forum.
Poonam Flammarion, Head of Talent Academy at cloud consultancy Cloudreach, says the programme is “hugely positive”: “The more that these kinds of initiatives take place, the more people will have access to resources. One of the biggest barriers for many people is getting access to programmes like these, so it is fantastic news. The skills gap seems to be an issue that every company is trying to address right now, which is leading to lots of large corporations launching these programmes.”
Cloudreach itself has established its own Talent Academy, albeit not on the scale outlined by IBM, with the aim of developing a new talent pool of skilled cloud experts. It has been set-up alongside the leading player in the cloud game, AWS, and will involve a two-year course of intensive, hands-on learning.
“The main skills that enterprises are looking for are cloud architects and senior resources, the people with extensive experience in cloud,” says Flammarion. “There’s a very small pool of people with those skills. Especially because of the pandemic, everyone wants someone who is very experienced, someone who has done it all before or managed a large-scale migration project several times. There’s a shortage of people who’ve done this, though, because cloud technologies are now becoming increasingly mainstream and more widely adopted across industries and companies.”
One of the critical issues that is driving the gap is the breakneck speed at which technology is evolving, making it incredibly difficult to deliver skilled professionals at the same rate.
Addressing the dearth, Don Schuerman, CTO & Vice President of Product Marketing at Pegasystems, says: “One factor is the desperate hunt for specialist skills to update legacy systems. Candidates for this are either on the cusp of retirement, or so rare that the pool of eligible candidates is getting very shallow indeed. Of course, there are other fields like AI where the shortage tracks back to how these new areas of demand have become so important so fast, and in those cases, training of experts will always struggle to keep up with demand.”
One of the emerging trends in the technology space is the rise of low and no-code tools, and Schuerman believes it is one of a handful of solutions that will play a crucial role in closing the skills gap.
“When skills are so scarce, low code opens the door to a wider range of candidates to be hired or trained into the role of developing software, including those without knowledge of specific code. It also allows the end users of key systems to do their own low coding and develop solutions that resolve issues more directly.
“Low-code software allows for people with basic digital knowledge to run, update and create new business processes. These systems can be used by all employees within the organisation, not only the IT team. The transformative effect of low coding is often summed up by the term ‘citizen developers’.
“Research from Gartner has predicted that by 2023 there will be four times as many citizen developers at large enterprises than professional developers. This fosters collaboration between different teams within a company and enables processes to be streamlined to increase productivity.”
As well as low code, much stock is being placed in AI becoming more accessible and agile, making it easier to obtain and analyse data.
“It also has the potential to significantly improve the way organisations work, from ease of decision-making to increasing profits. In time to come, all employees may need to become more familiar with AI solutions working alongside them,” says Schuerman.
“But that also means organisations need to bring in new skills beyond just data science: they need to be able to think about how data is secured, and have AI governance in place to ensure that AI is used in a way that is transparent, ethical, and empathetic to customers and employees.”
With the skills gap more pronounced than ever, the pressure is on for all stakeholders to come together to find viable solutions and set out a realistic roadmap to ensure the tech skills needed currently and in the future could be provided to industry.
Alan Hiddleston, director of corporate learning at D2L, says: “As IBM’s new P-TECH Programme confirms, greater collaboration is needed among policy-makers, government leaders, and businesses if we are to navigate this hurdle and propel our economic recovery. The skills gap needs to be addressed on two fronts. The education sector and corporate learning and development have a joint responsibility to prepare individuals for both the jobs of today and tomorrow.
“To instil a culture of lifelong learning, students will need to be taught early on that learning does not stop after tertiary education. Similarly, the demand for training programmes and opportunities will continue to grow after the pandemic, so the workforce must accept that lifelong learning will remain a constant feature of their working lives.”
Looking ahead, Flammarion says that the rate of technological advancement means that any disconnect between the need of businesses and what is being taught by academia is likely to endure, with enterprises having to pick up the slack.
“Almost every university offers a data science or computing course, yet are lacking in teaching soft skills, such as presentation or other skills that are essential for customer-facing roles in IT and consulting,” she says
“Increasingly, companies like Cloudreach are almost taking on the role of a university themselves, and taking the initiative and the responsibility for continuously training staff on the latest technologies. This is one of the reasons why we created the Talent Academy, because we have to act ourselves and we can’t always rely on universities to meet our needs or teach the skills that seem to be missing.
“The demand for talent is only going to increase — it’s not going away. Hopefully initiatives like IBM’s and Cloudreach’s Talent Academy will lessen that gap but who knows if the gap will ever be fully closed.”