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Skills gap? Training is the key

Counterintuitive as it may seem in a difficult economic climate, companies looking for tech talent have a hiring problem. The phrase ‘Skills Gap’ is bandied about daily but it does beg the question – says who?

Are all those open roles really impossible to fill?

On this blog we’ve raised the spectre of the endless ‘Unicorn’ hunt when it comes to hiring tech talent, but maybe it’s time to ask more questions about the approach hiring managers are taking to finding the right people. Maybe what we’re seeing is as much a training gap as it is a skills one.

Or even a software one: we’ve all heard the story of the engineering firm that received 25,000 applicants for a basic engineering role, none of which made it past the HR department’s CV screening software.

Back to the future

But back to the training… Technology is changing so rapidly, some observers estimate that tech skills depreciate at about the same rate as physical assets.* At the same time, while 80 per cent of businesses express concern about the skills gap, only 40 per cent are doing anything about it. One last stat… A ten per cent increase in customer service representatives remaining with the same firm for five years is associated with around $16m in value added.

Today, the expectation is to hire people ‘fully learned’, all the way to whatever unique, company-specific applications and processes they use.

The common thread in all of these areas is training. Once upon a time, companies of all sizes had clear training agendas to suit their organisational needs. Today, the expectation is to hire people ‘fully learned’, all the way to whatever unique, company-specific applications and processes they use. If you can’t hit the ground running, forget it. And while it’s important to acknowledge the importance of experience, it’s often the case that the only person who can make an instant contribution is the person who’s done pretty much exactly the same job before.

Bizarrely, this emphasis on static skills in a changing world flies out the window when it comes to considering unemployed tech candidates, who often can’t get a look in because it’s assumed their skills are rusty. Put enough straight-up yes/no requirements into any job description and you’ll eventually ensure no one gets through your screening process.

Surely it makes more sense to train good candidates who meet many – but not all – of your requirements to become the perfect fit rather than watch the dust gathering on an open position for months, or even longer?

Fast track the future

Obviously, no one is suggesting you hire an accountant to head up Systems Administration. But what about Technical Writers? Over the past year, the same job opportunities at the same companies have been lying open. Yes, there are some courses out there, but it’s fair to say you really have to go out of your way to become proficient in MadCap Flare, Framemaker or DITA – but these are skills that could easily be taught to candidates with strong writing skills and an aptitude for technology, probably in well under a year. What’s better, taking a chance with a well-educated, talented and willing to learn career swapper, or letting the work pile up while the roles stay empty? Where are the ‘Fast Track’ programmes?

This isn’t to detract from the great work that Irish-based tech companies such as VCE, Trend Micro and EMC have done in conjunction with ISA Software Skillnet to re-train unemployed, talented candidates for in-demand areas such as cloud computing. But what about the lower-profile or home-grown companies?

If you’ve got a role sitting open for months, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if a little investment in training could pay off in the longer term. And if you think your problem is you’ve got too many CVs to screen, ask yourself this question: Are you getting kitchen sink applications because you’ve issued a kitchen sink job description?

As Jagger said, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, you can find what you need.

* The Talent Equation, Lorin Hitt

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