Making sure IT professionals have 'the right skills'

* Reports indicate a disconnect between IT professionals and their managers when it comes to setting priorities for what will help both the employers and the employees

I've been reading some interesting reports that seem to indicate that IT professionals and the managers who employ them are out of sync when it comes to having the right skills to do a needed job.

The first report was issued by Forrester Research in January 2005. Although the report is more than a year old, it's still very relevant today. Written by Craig Symons, with Tom Pohlmann and Natalie Lambert, the report is called "IT Skills Shortages on the Horizon, IT Skills that Will Be in Demand in 2005 and Beyond." Forrester conducted its research and wrote the report because clients – presumably executive level clients - were asking what IT skills will be in demand over the next few years.

The authors cited several IT positions/skills that are sure to be "hot" for the rest of this decade:

* Enterprise architects

* Business analysts/relationship managers

* Security

* Web services

* Linux/open source

* Agile programming

* Business intelligence/Web-enabled analytics

* Business process modeling

The report stresses the need for "proactive workforce planning." Symons wrote: "Faced with increased demand for scarce resources, IT must adopt a multipronged strategy to ensure that the requisite skills for success are available in sufficient quantities." He says the strategy should include: assessing current skill levels and demand; identifying gaps; and developing a resource plan to close the gaps.

That's one report, written for a manager's perspective on IT skills. I presume that the people who manage IT professionals want to ensure that their organizations employ the right people with the right skills for the increasingly complex IT environments we have today.

Now compare that to a report issued by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). The November 2005 report is entitled "CompTIA IT Professional Members Survey: Maintaining Currency and Relevancy." The survey includes responses from 462 IT professionals that CompTIA says are "representative of the population." The vast majority of survey participants are between the ages of 25 and 54, and they have an average of almost 10 years of working in the IT field.

Perhaps one of the most startling statistics to come out of this survey is that 85% of the respondents say they decide what IT training and education they need based on their own careers paths. "Just 8% make these choices based on their employer's requirements or recommendations," according to the report.

Eighty eight percent of the respondents say they pay for their own IT training and certification. Thirty one percent say their employers pay at least a portion of these costs. Only 21% of the respondents' employers provide paid time away from work of IT training and/or certification.

Seeing that IT professionals set their own direction for acquiring skills and pay for their own training, it's not surprising to learn that 60% of the respondents say they are currently looking for a new job. The majority of those currently looking for new jobs hope to land positions at a different company, while only a few said they are looking for a new position at their current company.

If we look at these two reports together, clearly there is a disconnect between IT professionals and their managers when it comes to setting priorities for what will help both the employers and the employees. Managers know they need well trained and experienced IT professionals, but they do little to direct and advance the skills in the people they already have on staff.

"Employers may be doing themselves a great disservice by not taking a more aggressive role in setting priorities when it comes to the continuing education and re-skilling of their IT workers," says Neill Hopkins, vice president of skills development at CompTIA. "The cost of recruiting, hiring and training new tech workers due to high staff turnover is significantly higher than an investment in ongoing training for employees already on the payroll. Clearly the IT professionals we surveyed have the desire and willingness to advance their skill levels so that they can more effectively contribute to the employer's success."

The Forrester strategy (assess current skills, identify gaps, close the gaps) is a sound one. The ideal situation is for managers and IT professionals to work together to prepare for the skills needed for the long term.

I'm betting most IT professionals would be thrilled (if not outright shocked) to have a manager say to them, "We need you to develop new skills in xyz technology and the company is going to pay for your training." But really, a few thousands dollars on training is far less expensive than tens of thousands of dollars spent on recruiting and new hire orientation, isn't it?

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