Technology is disrupting every department in every business.
But a problem – for many – is sourcing the right people for the right job.
Over the past 20 years, the Canada-headquartered Linux Professional Institute (LPI) has helped co-ordinate education and training programs and skills assessments for thousands of participants in more than 180 countries.
The not-for-profit organisation – which promotes the use of technology globally – is now working with Manchester-headquartered UKFast.
Here, LPI’s managing director Matt Rice gives his professional opinion on the best way to overcome IT skills shortages…
How much of a problem is the IT skills gap currently?
I think that there’ are a number of reasons for the gap.
First, for every “cool” IT job, there’s another hundred – or thousand – that are “boring” old, regular work.
And, usually, a new person has to “pay their dues” with some of the less glamorous job before they get to the fun jobs.
Secondly, these days, employers want to hire people with the skills that they need to contribute to projects immediately.
With the huge assortment of technology options, it’s tough to find someone with the exact set of skills that are sought for a project.
This means that applicants are often juniors that are missing some skills and don’t qualify for the job or they are too experienced, overqualified and expensive people to hire and don’t fit the project budgets.
Third, technology is changing fast and picking the latest and greatest technology means waiting for the lag of people as they learn new skills.
What’s the best way for businesses to overcome the skills gap?
It’s amazing how often the phrase: “Good, fast, cheap; pick two” comes up in life for me.
I think that businesses would do well to evaluate their priorities when it comes to tech problems.
My personal preference is for businesses to use a long term perspective and invest in their people.
This means hiring life-long learners or, at least, people willing and able to learn new skills.
It also means not expecting to check off every box in a skills list during the hiring process as well as investing in team and interpersonal skills.
This isn’t a quick solution, though.
A quicker solution is to offer better compensation – including money, lifestyle and location – than other companies and attract the existing talent.
This approach appeals to some companies but it requires a mindset in the company that IT is not just an overhead, but a crucial part of a company’s infrastructure.
I think it’s the “fast and cheap” option that’s the problem here…
How does the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) work with businesses in the UK to overcome skills shortages?
There are a number of ways.
For example, we run partnership programs for educators and employers of open source talent.
We help both groups to set up education programs in their organisations – and we are releasing some core learning materials around our education standards later this year which will be freely available to anyone that wants to use them.
In addition, we provide individual support in the shape of continuing education opportunities and a matching service for employers.
We’re especially interested in IT apprenticeships and internships as well as peer mentoring and volunteer programs.
Third, we’re expanding our program to support earlier education and introductions to open technologies.
We’ve witnessed a lot of success with our Linux Essentials program and are broadening that out to include security, Internet of Things (IoT)/embedded and web development topics.
These are all focused on the free and open options in technology.
In short, we’re working on more gentle introductions that can easily be incorporated into already over-packed curricula.
This is what Lawrence Jones, CEO of UKFast had to say….
The skills gap is one of the greatest barriers to continued growth across the tech sector.
There are some incredible initiatives out there to encourage more people to take up careers in tech, like Code Clubs. These give young people the chance to get hands on with how the tech that they are so familiar with actually works behind the scenes.
Technical, vocational qualifications, including apprenticeships are also having a major impact bringing us closer to bridging the digital skills gap. Ultimately it makes perfect sense to give students the opportunity to experience working with cutting-edge technology as soon as they finish their GCSEs or A Levels.
There’s sometimes still a stigma attached to apprenticeships, with students pushed towards university by schools, colleges and their families, but we see the momentum and confidence these young people build up during their apprenticeship. They’re often way ahead of graduates after three years in the right kind of environment.
Universities, of course, provide an incredible platform to equip young people with the skills that they need for the industry – but we need to ensure that businesses are working closely with them to ensure that transferable real-world business and communication skills are taught too.
Manchester in particular is doing an extraordinary job of nurturing technical talent in young people, perhaps because the industry here is so strong, but there’s still a long way to go.
For us to truly realise the opportunities of digital technology the government needs to invest heavily in not only the tech curriculum but also in teacher training and vocational courses so that the next generation coming through have the skills they need to excel.
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