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Train IT Staff Before It's Too Late

A man in glasses is sitting at a desk with a computer in front of him.

Every learning and development (L&D) manager needs to know this: The financial impact of the worldwide IT skills gap will grow from $302 billion in 2019 to $775 billion by 2022.

That's what global organizations stand to lose, according to a recently released market analysis from International Data Corp. (IDC). Much of the costs from poorly trained IT employees will come from delays in the release of products or services, missed revenue, and increased costs to the business.  

The report adds that companies that fail to align training programs with their critical priorities will delay achieving their business objectives by 13 months, and even if they do align training programs with company priorities, they will still only meet their business objectives in half the time.  

"Skills matter," said Cushing Anderson, vice president at IDC and author of the report. "The data gives learning and development professionals the ammunition to tell company executives they can't skip training, they can't ignore training and it cannot be an afterthought, especially if the company has strategic objectives that require some skill change."

According to Anderson, a company's IT initiatives need skills training, which could include integrating human resource management systems; implementing diversity, equity and inclusion platforms; improving payroll; or implementing artificial intelligence algorithms for recruiting. It could even be changing your business model to a subscription pricing scheme.

"It does not matter what your business initiative is; in every case, you've got to train people in order for that initiative to make a difference," Anderson said.

The best way for human resource executives to develop a long-term training strategy is to understand what the workforce of the future looks like, said Julie Anna Barker, CHRO at ManTech, a defense contracting company based in Herndon, Va.  

"Where there is a difference between your current workforce and your workforce of the future, those gap areas are your opportunity for upskilling through learning and development," Barker said. 

As companies advance their digital transformation initiatives, which rely heavily on cloud computing platforms, IDC's data reveals the benefits of role-based certifications that focus on the Microsoft portfolio of technologies.

More than 650 IT leaders were polled about how Microsoft-certified training programs improve IT professionals' performance. The key findings were:

  • Microsoft-certified Azure cloud engineers spend 20 percent less time setting up infrastructure, thereby completing significant projects nearly two days sooner than uncertified engineers.
  • Microsoft-certified Azure cloud administrators are 55 percent more likely to be able to determine the scope of impact of a security issue with a virtual machine than uncertified engineers.
  • Microsoft-certified enterprise administrators spend 40 percent less time designing and implementing Microsoft 365 services than uncertified engineers.
  • Microsoft-certified security engineers have 37 percent fewer network-related security incidents that impact multiple devices than uncertified engineers.   

Anderson said the results prove that when skilled IT employees are well-trained in cloud-related Microsoft certification programs, they are more effective, have enhanced capabilities and move faster through cloud adoption.

"The faster you adopt cloud computing, the faster it helps your business," he said. "These are very specific examples of why a technical certification matters to an organization, but I would say that you could generalize these findings to any degree of in-depth training in any role and you would end up with similar kinds of advantages."

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Another IT shift the study notes is the way IT training is delivered. In 2019, classroom-based instructor-led training (ILT) was 40 percent of the IT training market. In 2020, that shrunk to 20 percent. By comparison, in 2019, 47 percent of training was conducted by e-learning content and virtual ILT combined. In 2020, this grew to 68 percent.

Periklis Venakis, chief technology officer at Epignosis LLC, a San Francisco-based learning technology vendor, said many companies have had to adjust to learning online.

"At first, people were trying to Zoom their training to replace the physical presence where everyone was present at the same time, but having e-learning means you can record a video, reuse and replay the recording, and upload training material or other offline training content," Venakis said. 

Stephanie Flory, chief learning officer at ManTech, said that since the pandemic started, her company has moved 95 percent of its learning delivery online and, because workers are not seeing each other, taking lunch breaks with each other or networking with one another, the company has relied heavily on technologies like Slack and Webex to help employees communicate on training issues. 

"The biggest challenge that we have seen is maintaining an ability for our employees to network with each other; that's the biggest piece that we are missing from a live training event," Flory said. "Our workforce wants to learn from each other. That face-to-face interaction is the one thing that we continue to see our employees express that they are missing."

As companies continue to grapple with the best way to tie IT training to business objectives, Anderson said L&D organizations will gain greater credibility when IT employees know that if they get trained in a specific area, they will actually improve their performance, help the business move forward and help their boss's boss achieve the organization's goals.

"That's when the L&D organization can consult with the wider business, in this case IT, and say, 'Let's discuss what we should get better at and we will suggest training that aligns with your strategic imperative,' " Anderson said. "All of a sudden, L&D isn't simply providing training but is a partner in achieving business objectives and becomes a valuable contributor to the success of the organization." 

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.


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