woman on a laptop
The IT talent shortage means competition for certain skill sets is at an all time high. Why not train employees with the skills you need instead? PHOTO: Filip Bunkens

Hiring talented people has never been easy, but finding candidates with the expertise to run the latest systems is one of the greatest challenges businesses face today. The problem is especially acute for businesses that rely on cloud-based infrastructures, but there are shortages of talent in other tech disciplines as well. One way to address the problem may be to hire the right people and then offer them the training they need to keep pace with the speed of technology innovation.

The talent gap is especially acute for companies that rely on cloud-based infrastructures. The cloud is growing faster than ever. Most recently, Amazon Web Services announced dozens of new features and services at its annual re:Invent conference. Similarly, Microsoft made several cloud-related announcements in October, and last March Google announced more than 100 updates to its Google Cloud Platform. Combined, those companies hold more than half the market share in cloud infrastructure, and they show no signs of slowing down.

Innovation Tests the Limits of HR

You’d be hard-pressed to find an IT professional who considers innovation to be a problem, and let’s face it, today’s cloud services are incredibly powerful. However, innovation does pose a problem for the businesses that use the platforms: Technology is being developed faster than people can learn how to use it.

In its “Cost of Cloud Expertise” report, managed cloud services provider Rackspace found that 71 percent of IT decision-makers believe their organizations have lost revenue because of lack of expertise. The cloud’s appeal comes from its ability to help businesses scale, but the pay-as-you go model has its pitfalls. When engineers don’t know a platform well enough, they can end up using services inefficiently by, for example, provisioning more instances than needed or, worse, provisioning fewer instances than needed, resulting in downtime or lost profits.

In the same study, 40 percent of IT decision-makers said that they are concerned that they cannot keep pace with the evolution of cloud technology. Meanwhile, 65 percent of the employees surveyed said that they believe they could bring greater innovation to their companies if they had the right expertise.

Skills Required Beyond the Cloud

These challenges extend beyond cloud technology. Open-source talent is in similarly high demand — and similarly short supply. For example, in the Linux Foundation’s “2017 Open Source Jobs Report,” 89 percent of the hiring managers polled reported that they had difficulty finding talent. And there’s an overlap between the open-source and cloud labor markets: 70 percent of those hiring managers reported that they are also engaged in active searches for cloud talent.

The IT labor market is more competitive now than ever, and it really is a seller’s market. The average open IT role takes about five weeks to fill. Given that fact, it makes sense for businesses to start looking at what employees want, and using that information to attract talent.

Here’s an incredible statistic from the Linux Foundation’s jobs report: 76 percent of IT professionals said that certifications are useful for their careers, but only 47 percent of organizations will help their employees pay the cost of pursuing certifications. Let that sink in for a moment. Each of those numbers on its own is telling, but the story they tell when they’re combined is astounding. Businesses want skilled employees, but more than half aren’t actively investing in their employees.

Hire People, Not Skills

When an organization posts a job opening, it’s uncommon to find an applicant who meets every single one of the desired qualifications. That’s true across nearly all industries, not just technology. It’s worth considering whether searching for the right person, not just the individual with the right skills right now, is a more effective way. The question of whether to help employees foot the bill for learning the skills they need is a matter of simple accounting: If you don’t help them pay for training, the costs they incur amount to deductions from their paychecks, but if you do pick up the tab, the reimbursement amounts to a bonus.

Finding the right training program is a challenge in its own right. And, of course, training doesn’t come free. But that investment is far less expensive than the costs associated with short-staffed teams, turnover and low employee engagement, not to mention waste in the form of misused technology.

What should you look for in training programs? First of all, training should have a measurable component. Plenty of education providers offer video courses, and a lot of their content is excellent. However, if you don’t know which team members are watching the videos, retaining the information and applying what they learn on the job, you’ll have a hard time calculating your return on investment. Look for platforms that offer, at minimum, an administrative dashboard so you can see the effects of training on your team.

Look Beyond Certifications

Another point is that training doesn’t have to be all about certifications. It’s a common myth that certifications are the gold standard, but purely skills-based training is valuable as well, and you can measure performance pre- and post-training to help gauge your ROI. The ultimate goal is to find a program that teaches necessary skills and then validates them, whether that’s through testing, progress reports or hands-on labs.

In the coming years, hiring managers expect to continue to face challenges when it comes to retaining top talent. Combine that with the speed of innovation that is driving modern business, and you can see that a lot of companies could be in trouble. But remember, businesses are run by people. And when you start thinking about offering training as a benefit to those people, you can attract the right ones to help your organization stay competitive.