Mind the Gap: Skills for the tech pros of tomorrow

Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds, analyses its annual IT Trends report and looks at why it’s important to invest enough time and money into career development.

Tackling the IT skills gap is high on the industry’s agenda – as it should be, considering that sourcing and maintaining new talent is vital to the market’s continued success and growth. In fact, we’re starting to see companies actively work to address the skills gap.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced plans to launch nine higher education courses with three UK universities, and other tech companies are following suit, launching graduate and apprenticeship schemes. SolarWinds itself launched an apprenticeship programme in collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University in 2018.

It’s great to see attention put upon the IT skills gap, but what about the needs and worries of already established tech professionals? IT pros find themselves at a crossroads – managing today’s wants with tomorrow’s expectations, and are asking themselves whether they’re equipped with the training and skills needed to manage tomorrow’s complex environments and emerging technologies.

As part of our annual IT Trends Report, released in March, we spoke to 174 IT professionals across the UK who manage cloud infrastructures, hybrid IT environments, or SaaS-based applications, as well as MSPs and MSSPs. The results paint a picture of uncertain IT pros, preparing to manage not only their daily environments, but personal career growth during a time of significant change.

Mixed feelings toward emerging technology

Strikingly, 70% of survey respondents said they’re not “completely confident” they have all the necessary skills to successfully manage their IT environments over the next three to five years. When it comes to managing and implementing specific technologies, emerging tech is a pain point. The top three technologies those surveyed currently feel unequipped to manage are AI, blockchain, and machine learning/deep learning. In many businesses, this tech is still years away from implementation, but IT pros must start thinking about these today so they can form business cases early on.

It’s evident that despite much hype from bosses, IT professionals still feel unconfident to manage emerging technologies and the IT environments they exist within. This highlights how the community requires continued training and development to successfully implement and manage these technologies.

Challenges in career development

Our report also highlighted the barriers blocking IT pros from pursuing their desired career development routes. Nearly eight in 10 say their day-to-day tasks extend into time earmarked for career development, with 33% saying this always happens. There is a disconnect here, considering tech pros enjoy technology skills training – with 49% finding it informative and 32% describing it as engaging and interactive.

Currently, tech pros engage in IT skills training and/or career development programmes ranging from monthly (23%), quarterly (13%), and annually (13%). However, if there were no schedule or workload restrictions, 36% would prefer weekly training. Tech pros cite time and availability (51%) and cost (23%) as the biggest barriers affecting their current ability to participate in IT skills training and career development programmes at the frequency they would like.

IT pros are hungry to learn but find themselves prevented from doing so. This is a worry because, more than ever, it’s essential that IT pros set aside time devoted to career development and getting to grips with important new technologies. It’s in managers’ best interest to put enough emphasis on career development – neglecting doing so will affect future success of emerging technologies.

Efforts to close the IT skills gap will hopefully see thousands of new IT professionals enter the workforce in the coming years. But what lies waiting for these new IT pros? Our survey highlights how confidence around managing emerging technologies is low amongst current IT pros and bosses are failing to invest enough time and money into career development. This must change. If management teams want to grasp the opportunities of emerging technologies, they need workers equipped with the skills to do so. If not, the industry could find itself in a new crisis. Our research has expressed the voice of UK IT pros loudly and clearly. Will businesses sit up and listen?

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