How to navigate IT’s great re-skilling

Expert Insight

How to navigate IT’s great reskilling

The revolution has arrived. But it’s not on the premises—it’s in the cloud. The IT Forum’s ongoing research into IT organizational design makes it clear that the transition to cloud services is having perceptible impact on IT staffs. Data centers are closing and downsizing, systems and database administration roles are declining in importance, and new skills soft and hard are in demand.

Other forces are bringing change to IT’s skills portfolio as well: Chief information officers (CIOs) tell us they are intrigued about how AI might reshape client services, and they see real benefits in Agile and DevOps methodologies.

They also tell us, however, that these changes aren’t easy to accommodate within IT organizations built around different operational and development models. To help CIOs and their teams align staff skills with the emerging technology environment, our 2019-2020 national meeting presentation, “Accelerating the Evolution of IT’s Skills Mix,” includes a deep dive into ongoing skills rebalancing and staff development efforts at institutions that are leading the pack.

The skills portfolio needs rebalancing

Even IT organizations fully dedicated to new computing models can’t pursue them with an entirely free hand. Vendor inertia, customer preferences, union rules, and staff resistance to change dilute a CIO’s ability to realize the logic of the emergent IT environment. Rather than wiping the slate clean and building a new organization, CIOs must manage a lumpy transition from one skills regime to another.

Fortunately, we’ve found innovative new roles that can help institutions address the elements of the skills transition that matter to them. One institution has reassigned redundant operations staff to a vendor management role that optimizes the complex contract terms endemic to the cloud environment.

Another institution has organized a cross-trained developer pool that breaks with the tradition of technical specialization in order to provide more flexible development resources and more diverse IT career paths. We’ll also look at ways IT can work with human resources departments to cut through bureaucratic rules and make the case for innovative new positions.

Reskilling is more about building than buying

Most higher education IT organizations won’t be able to hire their way into the next generation. Eight out of ten CIOs report difficulty retaining talent, largely due to a 25-30% salary shortfall relative to commercial industries. High-demand fields crucial to the emergent environment, such as cloud engineering and cybersecurity, command an even higher premium.

Progressive organizations are addressing this challenge with programs to develop emergent skills in existing staff. Our presentation will highlight staff “study day” options that encourage IT personnel to investigate new technical fields. We’ll also spotlight an apprenticeship program that yielded one IT unit three new certified cybersecurity specialists who upskilled from help desk positions. Plus, we’ll look in depth at the way one research university developed an integrated staff development strategy combining a current skills inventory, personalized development planning, and a tiered set of professional development options using both institutional and commercial resources.       

Organic growth beats master planning

IT leaders facing big changes are accustomed to carrying out a gap analysis—comparing the current state to a future ideal state and assessing how to bridge the gap. The uncertainties inherent in forecasting highly fluid, rapidly-changing skills needs, however, bring unacceptable risk to any attempt to define a master skills development plan for the future.

Our research suggests that IT organizations can more successfully make the IT skills transition by establishing appropriate “sticks and carrots” and relying on IT staffers and their managers to identify the incremental changes necessary to keep the IT unit appropriately skilled. Leveraging the staff evaluation process and training managers in development concerns will be crucial to this effort.

With opportunities to network with peers, interact directly with our experts, and discuss how our findings can translate to your IT organization, IT Forum members agree that the national meeting is the single most valuable part of their EAB partnership – and we’re looking forward to welcoming you this winter. Save your seat today.

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