IT skills shortage still tops the technology agenda

Many executives in the UK expect to increase investment in IT products and services, but there is an ongoing skills challenge

In today's economic climate, even good news must be viewed as an opportunity to evolve and advance. 

CompTIA's annual workforce study shows that the majority of executives in the UK expect business to improve, and 62% plan to increase investment in IT products and services. 

This is welcome news for the industry and for UK companies that stand to benefit from new technology. But, as the research also highlighted, it presents an ongoing skills challenge that must be addressed.

Technology and skills priorities

IT security is a top priority, with nearly half of respondents seeing human error as a growing concern for businesses. Many blame a failure to get staff up to speed on security breaches -- a sign that IT professionals need to look beyond technology solutions and start taking responsibility for training the people using them.

Mobility is in the top five IT priorities, which means we can expect increased use of tablets, but also services such as video-conferencing. 

But people still care more about traditional IT infrastructure -- data storage and networks were priorities two and four for the coming year. Despite the hype around cloud, server rooms and datacentres are not dead yet and the skills to maintain them should not be completely cast out as we develop new skills for the approaching cloud.

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Cloud, nevertheless, is coming. While only 14% said they had fully implemented cloud, 42% were experimenting. Those who were hesitant cited security as a top priority, but a quarter cited challenges in developing staff expertise. These are teething issues, which we are more than capable of solving in the coming years. 

There is no doubt cloud is growing ever more popular, and while we stress not ditching old skills too hastily, preparing for new ones is clearly essential.

The skills behind the technology

The innovative nature of IT often means that demand for new IT skills outstrips supply. 

Some 44% of respondents suggested they were still some way off where they wanted to be. As new technologies move from invention to mainstream application, there is a constant need to keep reassessing skills, training and recruitment, to ensure you can meet changing demands.

The study found that 86% of IT staff have engaged in some form of IT training in the past 12 months. Less than half of these (35%) trained with an instructor, compared with a global average of 45%. This is not bad, but instructor-led training tends to be the most effective at delivering lasting results. Given the need for constantly updated skills in IT, this needs to increase.

Why certification matters

Training is great, but it should ideally be backed by assessment to validate the skills acquired. The research found 73% of respondents thought it important to test after training to confirm knowledge gains. 

The critical factor here is industry-led certification, which provides a benchmark for the skills delivered through training and accreditation. In other words, it offers assurance that the training has been aligned with the skills and requirements that are in demand in the real world. 

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With this benchmark, it is easy to evaluate the capability of a team or the quality of a prospective candidate. This is always important, but never more so than when a business is venturing into new territory. Knowing your staff meet an industry-approved skill level is hugely important for introducing new technologies -- not to mention for your own peace of mind.

The industry seems to agree. Some 31% of respondents had some sort of certification requirement and another 44% strongly encourage them. Given the demonstrable returns CompTia sees from certification among its members -- from individual progress to ability to win business -- such support for certification is a good thing.

IT will always change rapidly as new technologies appear that can make our personal lives and work easier or more productive. But IT is only ever as strong as the people in it. Understanding the technologies that can benefit your organisation will make you good. Preparing your staff to take full advantage of them will make you great.

Click here for more insight into the International Technology Adoption & Workforce Study

Todd Thibodeaux is president and CEO of CompTIA.

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