How to close the IT talent gap

By Rich Hein, CIO |  IT Management

There is an old business adage attributed to Peter Drucker that says: "You can't manage what you don't measure." This means if you don't have real metrics in place and you aren't measuring performance, you'll never know whether you're doing better or worse. This adage is relative to many of things we do in IT and careers, because if you don't know where you are going, then you won't know the skills necessary to get you there.

Consider this piece of data from the CIO Executive Council's report, Creating Your Future-State IT Leadership Team Today. Two hundred senior IT personnel were asked how important they thought development of their own people was. These IT leaders almost universally (96%) rated this as either important or very important, but when asked how adept their leadership was at tackling this integral part of employee management more than 30% rated themselves as not proficient. One way companies can help better develop their IT talent internally is to build an individualized training program based on a skills analysis.

A skills analysis of your IT team is one of the pivotal tools in your management toolbox. It can help your company better understand where their competencies and weaknesses lie.

"It's crucial to do this type of analysis for workforce planning and career development because it helps employees understand what skills the business is going to need to achieve its goals," says Rachel Russell, director of marketing at TEKsystems.

This, in turn, allows leadership teams to better plan for the future needs, but more than that, when done correctly, it builds employee engagement and helps retain staff longer.

"It's something we're beginning to do, but I think it's going to happen more and more. Once you have data about how your employees are doing you have a lot more tools at your disposal," says Monica Brunaccini, vice president and chief learning officer at the CIO Executive Council.

According to Eric Garrison, director of learning at Benchmark Learning, you can't get better connected to the business unless "the technical skills are in place, the business skills are in place and the process skills are in place; otherwise you risk falling flat on your face."

There can be a number of factors that bring you to the realization that a skills analysis is in order. Ron Guerrier, vice president & CIO at Toyota Financial Services offers this example:

We knew that mobile was where it was at about two years ago. Everyone was talking about mobile. All your applications, all your customer-facing apps, have to have a mobile aspect. We then realized that we didn't have the skill set in-house to start building mobile apps and pushing things out to the iPad or Android or what have you.

Guerrier knew he needed to do something and a skills analysis seemed like a good place to start.

Where to Begin a Skills Analysis

The first step, according to Rachel Russell, director of marketing at TEKsystems, is to understand the business and have a clear strategy of what your IT organization and skill sets needs to look like in the future:

"Work out a plan, partnering with HR or companies like TEKsystems to ask what kind of skills, experience and bandwidth are required to get there," says Russell. "Then you work backwards from there. For example, these are the skills experience and bandwidth required, now let's do an inventory of our current staff to figure out where they rank. There are a variety of things you can try and I recommend doing as many of them as time and budgets will allow. They can include manager assessments of their teams, self-assessments, you can give tests, inventory employees past experiences and you can look through the skills on resumes, etc."

In regards to skills analysis, Garrison approaches IT management with the following four questions:

How has the role of IT changed "In the Business"?

What skills do you need today and into the future in order for your IT employees to be successful "in the business"?

What are the biggest skill gaps you have on your teams?

What are you doing to help close those gaps in order to set your people up for success?

"We need to see what the state of the union is, what are the things that your people are the most competent in today, what are their weaknesses or gaps. That gives us the data to pick a priority list of the things that need to be addressed. We can then build a learning plan out for the next 18-24 months and start closing that gap," says Garrison.

At Redwing, Joe Topinka CIO of Red Wing Shoes started by opening a dialogue with HR and explaining the importance of the IT skills analysis. This paved the way to get their leadership team on board. "My goal was to move the needle on engagement so what we did was to create a skills assessment and then built a training program around that," says Tapinka.

Do I Need Help?

Many times, managers or leadership teams will do skills assessments on their own, as was the case with Guerrier and Toyota. Leaders start out at a high level and usually work with team leaders to develop a series of skills that they need in order to be successful.

They typically use tools like Excel and Word or Survey Monkey to create surveys, which they send out to their teams to rank their level of confidence with this variety of topics in either typically a three- or five-point scale depending on what they want to measure.

"Can companies do it on their own? Absolutely. Does it take a lot of time to plan and do it right? Absolutely," says Garrison. The benefits of using a third-party company, according to Garrison, is that the skills gaps, once identified, are tied directly back to educational assets that will allow employees to close the gap quickly.

Make Sure Your Messaging Is Clear

In a survey published by Computerworld in 2012, 26% of the 4,337 IT pros stated they are specifically concerned about keeping their skills up to date and being valuable to their employers. A skills analysis and training program can help your employees do just that but how your staff feels going into this evolution is crucial.

Communication with the employee about this process is paramount, according to Garrison. "It needs to have the tone that the organization knows that you need help; however, we don't know what kind of help you need. This is going to help us identify the skills that you're most competent in and identify the gaps. This gives us the data we need in order to take action and help you be more successful in your role. The way that communication is set up is so critical," says Garrison.

"We talked about it with our entire staff and we assured them that this is not some sort of gotcha management program. We're really trying to find areas where we can help you improve. We told them, we're going to make an investment in your career," says Tapinka and vice president of multichannel commerce."

"Once we did it and they saw that we were taking the results and implementing the training programs that surfaced as a result of the assessment they began to realize that it was true we weren't using it as a way to weed out poor performers or people with the wrong skill sets etc. I hate to sound cliché but actions speak louder than words," Tapinka says.

How Long Will It Take?

According to Garrison, how long the analysis and training process takes is dependent upon where your company is at the moment. The company that feels confident in its technical, business and process skills will likely build a plan approximately for two years. Whereas a company that is weak in any of these three skills areas will likely create a plan 3 to 5 years in length to get their teams to the level they need to be performing at.

It's no doubt that performing an IT skills analysis of your teams is something that needs to be approached in a thoughtful way in order to get it right but the payoff, according to the experts, is well worth it. It can set your IT department up for future successes and improve employee engagement and retention.

Has your company done an internal skill assessment? Was it a good experience or a bad one?

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Originally published on CIO |  Click here to read the original story.
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