Why training alone is not enough

Among the difficulties IT leaders face is how best to combat the skills crisis and where and when to train internal teams

Everyone knows there is an immense shortage of skills in IT, and that it’s constraining the ability of business to develop new services and to grow. This deficit can also expose the organisation to significant security threats. Net result: business operational risk.

A recent study by Freeform Dynamics shows that this is widely recognised, with over 80% of the CIOs surveyed saying they plan to invest in developing people and skills during 2022.

To drive productivity, effectiveness and so on, you also need to create a sense of collective purpose across business and IT, and foster cross-functional/cross-discipline understanding and awareness. These are two sides of the same coin, and must be considered together.

At their cores, the issues of skills, training, collaboration and culture are far more about people than technologies. Sure, there are now mature technical solutions that can support training, personal development and collaboration, but the working culture of the organisation has to promote their active adoption and use.

However, while it is essential to improve the skillset of IT professionals, on its own, this is not likely to give businesses the forward momentum they desire. Great training in an organisation where there is not a strong culture of collaboration will deliver some benefits, but unless you also improve the way everyone works together, it will result, at best, in missed opportunities and delays or, at worst, major problems interrupting business. 

The goal should be to foster, and maybe even modify, a collaborative culture inside the IT team first, but keeping an eye open for opportunities to interact with other parts of the organisation. During various studies, we have encountered good practice patterns that can help to build a base. 

Want to build good culture? We need to talk

A starting point that is frequently referenced is to encourage members of the IT team to talk to each other, but not just on work issues. When people have a chance to interact casually, face to face or virtually via chat groups, special interest groups (SIGs) and so on, there is every chance that unexpected overlaps of interest will be uncovered. 

Beyond this, many organisations also provide opportunities for staff to participate in new, hopefully interesting activities, socially as well as professionally. Such activities can help to address another challenge that has been on the IT agenda for a few years, which is breaking down internal IT barriers and developing a multi-skilled team to replace existing siloed specialisations. 

Our studies have also made the point, several times, that IT people are not machines, even if other parts of the company think they are. Hence another element of these culture changes that has proved its worth, but which is easy to overlook in the stressed environments where many IT managers operate, is: make sure IT team members are recognised for the value they bring. Praising achievement is hardly revolutionary, but is important – often just as much as providing financial rewards, although ignoring the latter in the long term is also clearly not recommended! 

Good practices for staff motivation

Whenever we have asked for good practice to keep IT staff motivated, one answer comes through loud and clear: get people involved in everything you can, technical, cultural and social. Even better results occur when everyone knows they are welcome to contribute ideas that could help sustain and evolve the culture of the entire organisation, not just IT. 

The other factor is encouraging everyone to use their full range of skills, technical as well as personal, to benefit the company and hence themselves. This is often called fostering engagement.

Building engagement and ensuring training is readily available are beneficial on their own, but are far more effective when combined. You need a strategy, as well as tools and budget, with a multi-channel approach mixing digital, social and personal. Training can be delivered in-house or by using external resources, but the key is to ensure that everyone involved has the same vision. 

So it is important to ask not only what will this course or programme deliver, but how it fits into the bigger picture. Bear in mind that keeping trained and experienced IT staff is difficult in areas where skills are scarce. And although IT people like learning new skills, they must also be given the chance to use them and build on them.

Read more about developing IT teams

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  • Many firms are filling cyber security skills gaps by hiring neurodivergent talent – but more support is needed for neurodivergent cyber security professionals, writes autistic tech journalist Nicholas Fearn.

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