Article

Plugging the IT technical and non-technical skills gap

Kayleigh Bateman, Site Editor

IT pros are being urged to add both technical and non-technical skills to their CVs, due to a perceived lack of talent within the IT sector.

At the 360 IT infrastructure event, which recently took place at Earl's Court in London, the general opinion of attendees was that IT is very much a "changing face of business," as the recession has caused a shift in IT department roles and responsibilities.

To operate efficiently in today's business world, attendees agreed that it's important to develop yourself and your staff into well-rounded, business-savvy and technically-skilled workers.

According to a recent report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG, demand for IT workers in permanent positions rose by almost 12.4% in July, when compared with the same month last year. Additionally, a report by Ernst & Young from August found the UK and London are the most attractive country and city locations for foreign direct investment in hardware and software technology sectors.

The IT department will become the broker between the business and the hosting provider.

 

Tom Brand, virtualisation practice lead, GlassHouse Technologies,

With all this growth, and with the UK cited as the most attractive location in Europe, attendees of 360 IT questioned the lack of available talent and what can be done to bridge the gap.

Tim Rault-Smith, education consultant at the Open University, explained that IT graduates are in need of professional training.

In his "IT Professional Skills Gap," a solution centre discussion that took place at the show, Rault-Smith gave an overview of the Open University's E-skills Professional Programme. The E-skills Professional Programme is for IT personnel who already have degrees or equivalent training and qualifications. He said the course is designed to bridge the gap between pure technical jobs and general business experience; a survey by the Open University recently found that four in 10 people consider the level of business, non-technical and interpersonal skills of new recruits to be below company requirements.

According to the Open University, 62% of entrants to the IT sector are required to draw on management and professional skills almost immediately.

"Some people are in pure tech roles and want to get out of that role, and this course helps close the gap between pure tech roles and more managerial roles," Rault-Smith said. "The course is designed to fast track you into more responsibility."

Certain jobs in demand, but do titles matter?
An Open University e-skills bulletin in February 2010 found certain jobs are going up in demand. These included: Computer services manager, service business analysts, network/communications analysts and engineers, senior business analysts, senior test analysts, and development team leaders. As demand for more analytical type jobs are going up, the Open University noted, demand for programming skills are down.

Roger Bearpark, assistant head of ICT at the London Borough of Hillingdon, said, in his opinion, job titles are a smokescreen. He agreed that a technical element is required, but the IT manager must never lose sight of the fact that career development must only be partially technical.

"For the most part it is customer skills and business acumen that will add value for both the individual and the organisation. Who really cares if they are speaking with a CIO or ICT director, a computer services manager or a technical support manager? What they say and what they deliver is what counts, and that is what will build reputation and credibility," he added.

Bearpark explained that, from the service desk to the CIO, all IT professionals engage with colleagues across the business and therefore must accept it as a challenge to be the catalyst for change and provide thought leadership on future strategic direction.

Bearpark said: "Too many ICT managers see the transition from the hippy at the keyboard into the customer facing techie in the suit as job done -- transformation complete with cost effective and reliable ICT the ultimate goal. Think on. Nobody else has such an insight into the business then the ICT professional."

Learning 'softer' roles
Vish Mulchand, director of software product marketing at 3PAR said more IT roles have to focus on the "value adds" they can offer their business.

"The bosses you have to get the budget from don't care about the technical side of why you're pitching for a certain investment; they want to know how it will improve the business and grow revenue," he said, "so the tech guys need to know how to communicate this."

Mulchand believes that a technical role is easier and more contained: "Problems are more black and white when compared to managerial roles that seem softer."

Linux and open source skills
Jeremy Comley, head of marketing at Red Hat reseller partner Linux IT, identified a definite shortage of skills in the Linux and open source arena. He explained the way you can tell this is when the VAR is called into a company for an arranged four-week project and they're still there six weeks later. "They just can't find the people," he said.

[Tech] problems are more black and white when compared to managerial roles that seem softer.

 

Vish Mulchand, director of software product marketing, 3PAR,

He said Windows and Mac adoption is strong and Linux is definitely accelerating; this is exposing the skills gap further, however, as there are a lack of people with the required skills for open source.

According to Comley, a Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certification, alongside a degree, would give a student an easy entry into a booming sector.

Outsourcing and hosting providers
A point that was continually raised during the 360 IT show was that the pure technical workforce is being outsourced more and more to companies outside of the UK or to a hosting provider.

3Par's Mulchand said nowadays, instead of an IT manager having to learn everything (servers, storage, email, etc…), they can send it all to a hosting provider."The IT manager then learns a different set of managing skills, such as how to manage his hosting provider instead," he said.

According to Tom Brand, virtualisation practice lead at UK VAR GlassHouse Technologies: "The IT department will become the broker between the business and the hosting provider. The IT department will have to learn how to fill that role."

IT courses
Ian Wells, Veeam's director for northern EMEA, said he tends to look for graduates with business studies degrees, as they are after technical post and pre-sales staff.

Wells said there is generally a lack of business skills in the market, but that it's not just down to the young age of some candidates, but the lack of experience, drive and commitment.

Borough of Hillingdon's Bearpark concluded: "Don't sit back and wait to be asked, or read, about what we as ICT professionals should be doing. Innovate, lead and inspire -- now."

Kayleigh Bateman is the Site Editor of SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.


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