Closing technology’s confidence gap

The skills gap in the enterprise technology industry is not going away. In fact, it is getting more pronounced and becoming a real threat to digital business initiatives. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 75% of organisations will experience visible business disruptions due to infrastructure and operations skills gaps, which is an increase from less than 20% in 2016.

The statistics are stark: Europe faces a shortage of around 756,000 ICT professionals by 2020, according to the European Commission, while IT trade group CompTIA estimates that there are currently more than 700,000 unfilled IT jobs in the United States.

But the industry is also having to combat a ‘confidence gap’, according to CompTIA’s VP of Skills, Graham Hunter, which is exacerbating the chronic shortage of suitable candidates to slot into unfilled positions.

“There is this perception that you need a science degree or be a whizz at maths to work in the technology industry, which is just rubbish,” he tells Digital Bulletin. “There are many people working in areas like retail or manufacturing that are suffering, we are trying to get the message across that there are a lot of career openings in technology but they just don’t see themselves as suitable.”

CompTIA is leading the effort to change those perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the many vendor-neutral training and certification modules it runs is known as ‘IT Ready’, an eight-week training and job placement scheme that arms its students with the skills and knowledge they need to take up positions in the technology and IT industries.

The courses have typically attracted 1,000 applicants in the United States, which are ultimately whittled down to two cohorts of 20 students. Hunter says the main attribute CompTIA looks for is the right attitude, rather than any previous experience, adding that 86% of graduates are in employment in the industry within 12 months of graduation.

“What is really encouraging is having the likes of Google and Facebook who are saying that having a four-year degree is no longer a requirement for getting an interview,” says Hunter. “We are asking employers to help us help the industry by giving these guys an opportunity. You can’t say on one hand that you can’t move forward with innovation and then on the other not look at alternative ways of getting people into the industry.

“We have to find other ways to fill these roles, because as we see in the cyber security space, it is just a bunfight for talent. All that does is drive up wages, which means companies with the deepest pockets can take entire teams out. That is just not sustainable.”

Having proven its worth in the United States, Hunter and the wider UK team have been working tirelessly to bring the scheme to the UK, lobbying the government and other related bodies as to the effectiveness of IT Ready. With the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) committed to part-funding the programme, a pilot scheme kicks off in January 2020.

Hunter admits that most graduates’ first jobs will be in entry level positions, but insists that they still represent a tremendous opportunity to those taking them.

“If you look at salaries of entry-level IT compared to retail, it is better paid, and there are opportunities to grow, add new skills while embarking on a learning pathway to build on each certification,” he comments.

“You may start on a helpdesk and doing a mixed role that involves troubleshooting, understanding operating systems and various mobile devices. But from that you can pick up networking skills and jump into those, and once you get into that you’re very close to working in cyber security. So, you might start in an entry level job but it’s well paid to begin with and there are opportunities to move up that ladder.”

As part of its ambition to contribute to building an upwardly mobile IT and enterprise technology workforce, it also runs a ‘Cyber Ready’ programme that helps professionals already working within the industry to progress up the ladder.

“The course addresses those individuals that are in IT roles, or perhaps returning parents, that want to progress and use their existing skills to move into more in-demand roles. We know that these people might have prior commitments, so they came to us on a weekend, and came back each month, carrying out tasks and staying in touch remotely,” says Hunter.

“They sit our CompTIA Security Plus certifications and CySA+ (Cyber Security Analyst) certification as well, so at the end they are confident cyber security analysts. That is another example of what we’re doing, and we have individuals who have doubled their salaries off the back of this initiative.

“It really works because if we can get people moving up, then we can get people into the entry level positions they are moving behind, that is going to make the whole industry a lot more sustainable.”

In that spirit of mapping out a sustainable roadmap, CompTIA is calling on greater collaboration between stakeholders, particularly the government in the United Kingdom, which Hunter believes is reluctant to be seen to dictate to industry, instead relying on the relevant parties to come together independently.

“CompTIA cannot do it all on its own and one of the ways we are trying to collaborate is being part of the Cyber Security Alliance, which is trying to bring industry together so we can shine a light on the opportunities. That has brought together all manner of certification providers, associations around a table and we are in the process of dividing up work streams, which is really positive,” Hunter says.

“Governments needs to recognise that there are some established ways that are achieving results and be open to these ideas. We would say that we have a consensus within CompTIA in the way we create certifications, and that is not sitting in Chicago dreaming up the next money-spinning idea.

“We bring industry together and it is industry that tells us what areas these job roles are moving towards, and we build our certifications off the back of that and send it off for peer review. We have about 2,500 individuals who reviewed our latest certification so we are trying to build a consensus there and the government should recognise that the industry is doing some great work.”

But, he confesses, what was once accepted wisdom about a career in technology needs to change, with employers and employees becoming more flexible and adaptable. With the rate of technology change dramatically decreasing the half-life of skills, professionals will have to pivot between roles and become adept in many different areas.

“We are seeing the talent pipeline getting squeezed more and more,” Hunter concludes. “By encouraging candidates to become a bit more agile in picking up new skills, they will become more valuable. Instead of lifelong learning being a buzzword, we have to embrace that.

“I’ve spoken recently about getting away from thinking you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. You can and we’re going to have to. We can’t just rely on skills that have been learnt at school and that is a massive burden on employers, but if they aren’t going to invest in training and certifications, then they risk being left behind.”


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