Earlier this week IT Business Edge contributor Don Tennant wrote a post in which he suggested that IT industry groups such as TechAmerica should offer centralized training programs that would help folks gain the IT skills desired by employers. Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian once told Tennant he'd had to replace a quarter of Novell's work force to obtain the skills he felt necessary to drive the company forward.
Why couldn't Hovsepian retrain existing employees? He told Tennant:
... The cycle time is the biggest issue. The brutality of the pressure the company has to operate under in 90 days is what drives us.
There's no question the skills issue looms large for CIOs. As Gartner's Mark McDonald writes in his blog, respondents to Gartner's Executive Programs CIO Survey for several years running have identified people as the single biggest factor in determining the effectiveness of IT. Yet alarmingly, only 27 percent of CIOs in this year's survey said their organization had the right people with the right skills. Worse, just 19 percent of CIOs said building IT skills was one of their top five strategies.
Obviously CIOs have a tremendous amount on their plates, but you'd think building skills would rank higher since the right skills will make or break just about any IT project. With plenty of other ways to gain specialized skills, including outsourcing, hiring third-party contractors and purchasing managed services, CIOs might not put forth as much effort on building internal skills. These temporary options are especially attractive in light of rapidly changing business models, often accompanied by shifts in the IT skills needed to support them.
McDonald suggests CIOs can take advantage of the high unemployment rate to find talented IT folks who are between jobs. He writes:
Given that productivity gap between good people and the average, it can be easy to make the case that hiring a few good motivated people will actually save money, raise service levels and improve quality.
True enough. But offering internal training might be a good way to retain some of those talented people once they are on staff. The kinds of folks who make good employees tend to be the kinds of folks who look for opportunities to broaden their professional horizons. In particular, younger employees entering the work force welcome these types of opportunities.
Unlike the kinds of centralized training programs advocated by Tennant (which, don't get me wrong, are a good idea), internal programs allow companies to tailor training to their specific needs. Training doesn't have to be expensive, writes McDonald:
Re-skilling is neither impossible nor prohibitively expensive given the availability of online courses, brown bag lunches, the plethora of information available from Gartner, vendors and other sources. All of these offer an inexpensive way to build skills and experience.