Gernot Krautberger - stock.adobe

Trying to fill the ever elusive skills gap

Skills has been a problem for a long time, and it’s led to Billy MacInnes wondering if it can ever be sorted

Like a dissenting voice in Putin’s inner circle, IT skills and talent are frequently in short supply. Vendors, partners and customers often bemoan the dearth of skills and suitably qualified employees as a factor hindering the adoption of technology and the roll-out of projects.

Beyond the complaints, however, there is a wearied resignation that little, if anything, can be done to redress the situation in the short term. It’s more or less a fact of life. Many IT personages probably echo David Byrne and Talking Heads when they find themselves commenting on the skills shortage: “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

But maybe the problem is that the industry is failing to recognise the true issue. We all talk about a shortage of skills, but do we ever stop to think why shortages persist no matter what those skills may be? There’s always a skills shortage. There always has been, there always will be. It’s always the same. In other words, the real problem is the “same”.

Let’s take a step back to consider what, in an ideal world, would be the most effective way to develop, produce, sell, install, implement and use a product or service. The most effective product or service would be one that someone could buy, install and use without a requirement for any further knowledge or skill to make it work properly and effectively for them. That’s it.

But that’s not what we have. What we have is a world where people develop, produce, sell, install, implement and use a product or service that frequently requires a range of expertise and skills to make it work effectively. That’s the “same” that all parts of the industry and market have acquiesced with because, as David Byrne says, “it ever was”.

Why do we accept this situation so placidly? Perhaps because, despite the clear limitations, it “works”. It helps that we view those limitations as features of this self-perpetuating model rather than structural weaknesses that make it less effective and efficient.

Think of it this way: what if instead of constantly grappling to overcome skills shortages, we took skills out of the model altogether? There would be no shortages of skills because there would be no skills. Sounds strange, mad even, but is it any madder than the model we have now?

And think of how the model works at the moment. To successfully implement technology – or even to implement it in a slightly disappointing way – the vendor needs skills, the partner needs skills and the customer needs skills. That’s a lot of skills required.

But what if the requirement for skills was all concentrated at the first tier of that model and then, after that, the technology just worked for partners and customers?

It’s a radical notion, I know, that requires a massive shift in attitude and approach. But imagine the benefits of technology that was more effective and efficient to sell, implement and use. Think of the savings in time, cost and complexity achieved by stripping out the layers of skills and expertise currently expected to make technology work properly – or even, not quite properly.

I have often resorted to the French phrase, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same), when commenting on the vagaries of the IT industry, because it is usually true. But things only stay the same because there is a powerful inertial force that acts as a deadweight against real change, blocking people from imagining just how different they could be.

Sometimes, that inertial force comes from us. Perhaps the only real shortage is in the skills we need not just to change things, but to change us. In the end, its not just things that stay the same.

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