How can we shrink the skills gap by 2020?

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Richard Eglon – Agilitas Marketing Director

2020Ahead of CRN’s ‘The European Channel in 2020’ event next month, Richard Eglon, marketing director at Agilitas, mulls over how businesses can tackle the problem from within.

In the past four years, the channel has evolved faster than ever before. Customer demands are becoming more complex, putting IT suppliers under high pressure to deliver the complete package at a competitive price point.

At the same time, the IT skills gap is widening as the current pool of skilled, competent technical staff simply isn’t large enough for the channel to support the growth that is predicted. The present skills gap is one of the greatest challenges the technology sector has ever faced.

As business operations become ever more dependent on IT and technology, demand for supporting skills continues to grow. The gap is created when technology moves faster than the skills being taught, and demand for engineers, developers and IT expertise is higher than what is available.

Particularly in the UK, the majority of the current workforce will not have been taught technical skills in formal education, and with training sometimes taking years, the result is a gap between supply and demand.

One short term way to resolve the skills gap is to recruit from abroad like in many other service industries, but this in itself can be challenging to implement. Efforts are being made to reduce the gap by improving education provision for technical skills, however it is going to take at least ten years for students learning these skills to move into and then impact the workforce to reduce the gap.

As a result businesses are having to take ‘resolving the skills gap’ into their own hands, and with Brexit now a certainty and confidence low, it’s understandable the channel is concerned about provisioning for future skills.

Despite this, a piece of market research Agilitas commissioned with OnePoll revealed that the channel is confident that the gap will be reduced by 2020. Industry leaders are positive about the outlook, with 75 per cent of those surveyed believing the skills gap will change by 2020, and 64 per cent of those thinking it will be resolved or reduced.

In addition, just 17 per cent believe the gap will be made worse in the next four years.

The challenge for the wider technology space however, is how the gap can be narrowed.

We’ve found that channel executives view training of existing staff as key to reducing the gap by 2020, with two thirds seeing talent development as a key tactic in their strategic plans.

Developing existing talent is a very cost effective way for channel businesses to reduce their own skills gap, and make a contribution to wider industry development.

Rather than spending money on expensive talent resourcing strategies without any guarantee of success in today’s market, organisations can focus on making their existing talent better and relevant to customer demand.

The approach means less capital is risked through expensive recruitment, and staff will also feel more valued. Particularly in the area IT services, we’re finding resellers offering much more varied support than in the past. As a result, in order to service customers, resellers need a multi-disciplined, multi-skilled team.

The advancement of new technologies has shifted demand from desktop and low-end servers, to more complex server and storage-filled datacentres delivering leading-edge internet-enabled services.

Reseller engineers are expected to be able to maintain and work with multi-vendor solutions, and a continued influx of new technology, highlighting a need for more training and re-training across channel field engineers and technical support personnel. Developing existing skillsets will go a long way to reduce demand for new staff, and also support the growth of channel partners.

Staff will be encouraged to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities, giving them the confidence to work with any technology they come across. This will improve staff retention and increase productivity by recognising development needs.

Research has proven that productivity can be increased by as much as 14 per cent as a result of higher levels of engagement, meaning businesses can deliver services 26 per cent faster, further reducing the demand for new staff.

Lowering the skills gap by 2020 is a real challenge for the channel, but the opportunity is there.

Ultimately, if we’re ever going to solve it, we need more highly skilled people, so let us develop an industry that more people want to join. Greater training will highlight clear career progression and keep people in our wonderful industry for the long term.

In short, the skills gap is a challenge, but one the industry can step up to with continued hard work and dedication to skills development.

*The Agilitas-sponsored The European Channel in 2020 event is taking place on Tuesday 14 September at CRN’s London offices in Haymarket, where we will see what the channel of the future is shaping up to look like. To register for the event, which will include exclusive CRN and Agilitas research on this subject, please click here.

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