By William Phillips
In today’s world, if you’re in business, you’re likely in the technology business. No matter what your industry or specific product or service might be, odds are technology is an important part of how you drive revenue and maintain your competitive edge. With this digital-first business model, technology has evolved to potentially impact every part of your operation from sales and data modeling to marketing and call centers there isn’t a department untouched by technology. Because of this, the demands on the technology department in an organization have likely never been higher.
In this article we’ll cover these things to consider:
Who Holds All the Tech Skills?
So, if every part of your organization needs technology advancements, is it enough for your technology team to only have the skills needed to perform technology tasks? If you’re looking to succeed or simply keep pace, the answer is likely no. Technology team members, but especially leaders, need to have a shared interest in the success of other departments and be a collaborative part of the process.
On the flip side, your entire organization, especially outside your tech team, needs to develop the technical skills necessary for digitally enabled work. Technology skills are no longer highly centered in IT; they need to be “marbled” across organizational functions and businesses and coupled with soft skills to achieve transformation success, according to Gartner. And, as Deloitte puts it, some roles, such as technology product owners, may be filled by workers in business functions rather than those in technology functions.
The Role of the Technology Team Is Evolving
Your tech team can’t be all things to all departments, so it’s key to ensure the right relationships are made between your team and the rest of the organization. To fully integrate your technology team with the rest of your organization, rethink your organizational needs and processes from the top down and bottom up, and consider these questions when reassessing what skills your team needs today:
- When’s the last time I connected with my HR business partner to find potential skills gaps based on projected company needs over the next three to five years?
- Which departments does my team work well with and what departments are we less connected to? And why?
- Which foundational and transferrable skills does my team possess today, and which will they need in the future?
- Does my team have other cross-functional experience that could help them collaborate?
- What workforce development plan do we have in place today to help advance these skills, and do we need to adjust or add to that plan?
Determining skills and competencies that can help develop a less siloed, more cross-departmental technology team could prove valuable to overall organizational success and efficiency.
Unique Talent Sources
Something you might also want to consider is sourcing talent from other departments outside IT. These individuals may already possess these non-technical skills and instead be able to ramp up on the technology acumen through on-the-job training or additional outside courses and certificate programs. In fact, there is a growing trend that IT leaders are being sourced from outside the technology team. According to a 2020 study conducted by Deloitte and WSJ Intelligence, 87% of CEOs agree it is “more important now for technology leaders to understand business operations, strategy, and innovation than to have deep expertise in technology systems.”
Top 3 IT Non-Technical Skills Gaps
While every organization and team is different, it’s worth looking at skills that aren’t traditional to the technology department—the need for and value of these skills might surprise you. Filling in these skills gaps can go a long way toward helping your tech team become more integrated and collaborative throughout your organization.
1. Learning Agility
Think of learning agility as the quick consumption of new information and skills on a continual basis, and then the ability to apply those skills in your job and career—sometimes people with these traits are also known as life-long learners.
You might be able to achieve this with on-the-job training by tapping your critical talent to work on cross-functional projects, either within your technology department or with other departments. A variety of projects can help your team by giving them access to hands-on experiences in a wide range of areas where they can build confidence. At the same time, this approach can provide a valuable opportunity to develop specialized skills and strengthen key relationships.
Other areas to consider are workplace development and training solutions. There is a challenge with doing this in house, according to one global study, only 21% of people are happy with their employers’ learning and development experience, while 47% are dissatisfied. Partnering with external sources to help develop employee skills through things like certificate programs can help your team learn new competencies and pursue credentials to validate them. Such programs can enable your team to develop skills specific for a project or business function, like project management, leadership, global supply chain and big data and analytics.
2. Critical Thinking
According to the World Economic Forum, employers believe that critical thinking and problem-solving skills will top the list by growing in prominence in the next five years.
Critical thinking goes hand-in-hand with learning agility. It is the ability to assess a problem, develop a hypothesis and conclusion, and decide on a course of action. Team members with strong critical thinking skills can bring tremendous value to the entire organization and your team, as these skills can be applied to any problem. By putting this into action, your team may be better positioned to proactively assess situations, spot potential issues and implement preventive measures, rather than solely reacting to situations as they unfold.
3. Business Acumen
As Gartner puts it, in the digital business world, it is essential that CIOs and IT leaders be able to show the role of IT within the business strategy. The challenge exists in building the business acumen across the IT organization, so each member of the team can effectively execute on the digital business strategy. For your tech team to fully integrate into your overall organization, they’ll need to develop a strong understanding of the organizational strategy and how their work not only fits in but can truly lift and accelerate that strategy.
If an IT team can directly attribute a project to a revenue stream or efficiency savings, they may be able to see a clearer view of how their work contributes to the bottom line. This level of understanding can help build a team of strong collaborators who are also better partners, able to prioritize demands and equip them to find novel solutions to the biggest challenges your organization faces.
How to Evaluate Skills Gaps
Determining current and future skills gaps is critical to your team and organizational success. Consider these three elements when establishing a flexible, but measurable skills gap analysis process:
- Strong partnership between IT and HR: Working together, leaders in the two departments should conduct ongoing skills inventories. This helps you establish a baseline and goals to achieve, as well as identify opportunities for growth and development together.
- Candid discussions with your team: Evaluating skills alongside your people can allow for a more collaborative experience. You can find some example skills gap templates as well as an employee SWOT Analysis Guide from Indeed. Ensure your skills gap analysis includes both the technical skills needed for the role and their future role as well as these non-technical skills we just discussed.
- Action plans with measurable data: Develop specific, actionable goals and objectives, and create a skills pathway between leaders and their team members, that answers such questions as:
- What skills are missing or need advancing?
- What kind of a professional growth plan does the individual have in mind?
- What roles are you looking to fill, and does it align to their growth plan? If not, perhaps they haven’t considered this type of role due to lack of information.
- How can your team members learn the needed skills—what skills can you train for on-the-job vs. needing outside help with?
- How can they prove the skill competency?
The more specific your plans, the more progress you can make in filling any skills gaps and elevating talent.
Ways to Develop Your IT Team’s Skills Gaps
There are a few different pathways you could follow to help fill your identified skills gaps. Depending on your business needs and the individual needs of your team, you may want to implement two or more solutions simultaneously.
It’s a powerful tool to reskill or upskill talent when you already have the knowledge on your team, and your team has the bandwidth to support. This is often a great resource for on-boarding new talent to the team, from either outside your organization or team. Training them on processes, procedures and software that are needed for their jobs.
Partnering with an education provider
Sometimes your team doesn’t have the needed skills or the bandwidth to help reskill and upskill their team members. When this is the case you might benefit from finding an educational partner or partners that specialize in helping reskill and upskill talent. Consider this when establishing a partnership:
- For individuals: You might explore things like corporate education partnerships (CEP), tuition reimbursement/assistance, grants and scholarships.
- For groups of individuals: Consider creating a customized curriculum program, such as a cohort, with your education partner. You then have the ability to work with that partner, like DeVryWorks, to create a timeline for skills development. Your partner may also help you leverage existing degree and certificate programs that can provide skills needed today, but also might stack into longer term programs.
Just keep in mind, there is no single right way to fill in your technology team’s skills gaps. Every organization, and every person, is unique. Start by assessing your current and projected needs, along with your team members’ existing skills. Then consider which solution or solutions might be the best fit to meet those needs. It’s a good idea to start small, determine what works and what needs to be tweaked, and then gradually scale up your plans over time.
Are you an IT leader wondering how best to ensure that your team has the skills it needs for both now and in the future? In partnership with your HR department, why not start identifying potential skills gaps and looking into ways that a workforce development program could add value to your organization?
About William Phillips
William Phillips, Ph.D., became Dean of the Colleges of Engineering & Information Sciences, Media Arts & Technology and Health Sciences in March of 2019.
Prior to his appointment as Dean of these Colleges, Dr. Phillips was an Associate Dean overseeing programs in the College of Engineering & Information Sciences for over 10 years.