'IT Skills Gap' Study Says Most IT Departments Aren't Keeping Up With Tech

In the tech world, it's no secret that turnover is quick: Devices that were new just a year ago can become old news faster than you can say "Apple." And as cutting-edge tech races off conveyor belts, professionals expected to have expert knowledge about these products are apparently falling behind the times.

According to a study released on March 12 by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) , a whopping 93 percent of employers indicated there is an overall skills gap (a difference between existing and desired skills levels) among their information technology (IT) staff. Furthermore, 80 percent of organizations said their business has been affected by it.

The non-profit CompTIA conducted its online survey of 1,061 IT and business managers between December 15, 2011, and January 23, 2012. Although the group polled participants in Canada, Japan, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S., only data collected from the U.S. was analyzed in the final report. According to ITBusinessEdge, 502 U.S. IT and business managers took part in the study.

Its results show that many businesses are far from where they’d like to be in terms of the technology they want to employ and the knowledge their IT staffers have of emerging tech areas.

“Even as the importance of technology to business success grows exponentially, few organizations are exactly or even close to where they want to be with technology utilization and staff skill levels,” explained CompTIA’s executive vice president of skills certification Terry Erdle in a press release. “These gaps are hampering business success.”

According to the report (posted in full online by Wired), businesses have been most affected in staff productivity (41 percent), customer service and engagement (32 percent), and security (31 percent) because of gaps in their IT staffers’ knowledge of such areas as networks and infrastructure, security and cybersecurity, database and information management, and server or data center management.

While IT teams may not know everything there is to know about technology (though you'd think they would), they're not entirely to blame. Fourty-six percent of businesses attribute the lack of IT skills in staffers to fast-changing technology. CompTIA reported that organizations feel a lack of resources for IT skills development (43 percent) and poor translation of IT education and training to workforce performance (39 percent) are other important contributing factors to IT skills gaps.

Furthermore, about 56 percent of employers don’t even have a process in place to identify skill gaps among employees. CompTIA explains that “clearly efforts are concentrated elsewhere when employers should try to focus more on their employees; their most valuable asset after all. Those in IT management roles are especially feeling the neglect.”

However, the study does note, “On the other hand, findings suggest that executive and HR professionals in IT firms are more attentive to IT skills gaps than companies outside of the IT industry.”

On the whole, many of the organizations surveyed are already planning to improve their IT staffs’ knowledge bases by training or retraining existing staff in areas where skills are lacking (57 percent), outsourcing work to third party firms or skilled contractors (38 percent), hiring new staff that already have the desired skills (25 percent), or even by supporting programs that would help increase the amount of educated students entering technical fields (6 percent).

Others are incorporating some of the new technology that's been making them work so hard to catch up. PCWorld reported a few success stories of businesses taking this approach on the ground with customer service. First Data, a US. payments service provider, is planning to give 800 iPads out to its sales staff by the middle of this year. With this new tech at hand, staff will have an easier time selling products and getting contracts signed.

"As soon as the customer lifts their pen, the data starts moving in the background and draws up the account," First Data vice president of boarding tools, strategy, and support Don Stockslager told PCWorld.

While businesses are making the right moves to close the gaps, it seems the effort to actually make it happen will ultimately fall on the IT staffers themselves, especially with 50 percent of organizations employing online self-directed training or education to make up for whatever knowledge their IT team lacks. That's quite a tall order with technology changing at such a fast pace.

“There are so many new variables entered into the equation today -- cloud computing, mobility, the trend towards bringing your own device, video conferencing,” CompTIA vice president of research Tim Herbert told Wired. “When you add those in, there is definitely concern that IT staff is still catching up.”

How helpful have you found the IT staff at your company? Share your stories in the comments.

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