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Editor’s Question: How can enterprises tackle the skills shortage?

The skills shortage in the IT industry shows no sign of improving. In fact, there may be grounds for pessimism.

The reasons for the problem are complicated but I was told anonymously by an industry insider who has worked in IT for many decades that the question might need to be turned on its head in order to move towards some sort of answer.

I have suggested that first of all I consider why highly-skilled technicians working in the industry aren’t staying in their positions.

He stressed concerns about how such people feel the need to move on as they often get stuck on projects they constructed and end up spending endless days working on maintenance. The inevitable consequence of this is that they feel the need to move on so they can update their skills.

Worryingly, he told me, that many companies prefer to hire contractors to work on the more progressive projects, rather than stretching the capabilities of their in-house team.

If we widen the remit slightly we can consider why young talented and intelligent students might not be attracted into the industry after they leave university.

No doubt word gets around among graduates that IT changes very quickly with the pace of change more rapid than in many other sectors.

They are also probably switched on to the fact that working in IT can involve tedious tasks, requiring an abundance of patience, checking and tweaking code.

But such work is also high-risk as one mistake can have a disastrous impact on a whole project. Such a high-degree of responsibility may not be to everyone’s liking.

We asked three industry experts for their opinions on the subject. Here are their responses.

Ryan Niemann, CEO, Skid

Ryan NiemannSkuid CEO

One of the best ways for enterprises to address the skills shortage is to reduce the frictional applicants experience when applying for a position within the organization. Doing this can improve the pace of hiring by up to four times.

Today, few companies understand the impact candidate experience has on talent flow. Understanding what it takes for a candidate to move through the application process is the key to improving it.

Popular ATS (applicant tracking system) platforms often require candidates to create an account or sign in before they can complete an application. This step is a huge deterrent and will cause qualified talent to walk away.

What organizations fail to realize is up-front account creation is a signal that the entire application process is likely cumbersome and full of hurdles, which qualified candidates won’t tolerate. People want to work with organizations that value their time and talent enough to make all pre-employment interactions fast and easy.

If the application is too time-consuming, applicants won’t take the time to complete it. Applicants abandon their job applications when they are asked for the same information over and over, and are asked too many unnecessary questions and include too many screening stages.

Today, applicants expect a consumer-grade experience during the recruitment process, and a poor mobile experience will lead to lost applicants.

Enterprises are often heavily focused on optimizing the organization’s career site content, however, 85% of candidates enter the apply flow directly from a job ad or job aggregator site. Therefore, an applicant’s first exposure to the organization is through the job application flow.

How to improve the applicant experience

Companies are spending a disproportionate amount on making the career landing page beautiful, while for 85% of candidates, the apply flow provides a poor first impression. Enterprises should consider the following when evaluating their application experience:

  1. Number of clicks: How many clicks must a candidate make between ‘Apply now’ and the job application? The more hoops to jump through, the less likely they are to do it.
  2. Application steps: How many steps does the apply flow include and how much time do candidates spend per step?
  3. Incomplete applications: How many applications are abandoned? How many candidates drop off?

Though job applications are getting shorter, and organizations are realizing the value of optimizing the candidate experience, there’s still a lot of friction in the candidate experience that can be easily minimized by improving the application process. Providing a positive candidate experience is a key component to securing high-quality hires and competing for top talent in today’s fast-moving labor market.

Don Boxley, CEO and Co-Founder, DH2i

Don Boxley, CEO and Co-Founder, DH2i

The US is facing a growing labor shortage that threatens everything from our summer vacations to the country’s long term economic prosperity. Of course, this situation isn’t unique to the US, many countries around the world are battling similar challenges.

However, in the US, the Pew Research Center (PRC) reported that: “The nation’s quit rate reached a 20-year high last November.”

PRC’s findings agreed with what is being widely reported by countless other sources. The pandemic, which dramatically changed how virtually the whole world worked, learned and lived, led people across every industry and pay-grade to step-back and re-evaluate.

Those who decided that their job no longer supported how they measured personal and career satisfaction joined what is now known as the continuing Great Resignation.

So, what can an enterprise do to tackle the skills shortage? PRC’s survey findings offer a cheat sheet of sorts. It is not surprising that along with pay and opportunities for advancement, job flexibility came in at the top of the priority list.

Over the past couple of years, we have proven that not only does a flexible work-from-anywhere model support the same level of work and results, but in many cases it actually improves outcomes. (Don’t just take my word for it. Google ‘Why job flexibility improves performance’ and you will be greeted by a plethora of articles that support this statement.)

Certainly, one of the biggest challenges in supporting a work from anywhere arrangement is that of ensuring data and operations security.

When people were first sent home virtually overnight to work, many organizations were forced to depend upon their virtual private networks (VPNs) for network access and security and learned the hard way that VPNs were not up to the task.

VPNs simply were not designed or intended for the way we work today. External and internal bad actors continue to exploit inherent vulnerabilities in VPNs. (Again, a quick Google search will serve up today’s most notable and public VPN breaches.)

There is an answer to the VPN dilemma. It is a new and reliable approach to networking connectivity – the Software Defined Perimeter (SDP). This approach enables organizations to build a secure software-defined perimeter and use Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) tunnels to seamlessly connect all applications, servers, IoT devices and users behind any symmetric network address translation (NAT) to any full cone NAT: without having to reconfigure networks or set up complicated and problematic VPNs.

With an SDP ensuring safe and easy network access, not only are organizations freed from geographical recruitment limitations, but by offering work from anywhere benefits, they will enjoy a dramatic increase in their ability to attract and retain the highest caliber employees.

Drew Sanford, Vice President, Global Security Operations, ConnectWise

Drew Sanford, Vice President, Global Security Operations, ConnectWise

Build a strong culture

Anyone who has worked as part of a unified team that operates with a well understood set of goals will appreciate the value this brings to their role. To achieve this, employers need to ask themselves some tough questions: Does their culture make employees feel valued? Does it help them advance their careers? Does it help them feel like they’re a part of something important? It’s essential to build a work environment that affirms, grows and encourages people, not least because it’s one of the main ways of enticing them to stay.

Culture is also becoming increasingly associated with recruitment success. Today, more people are closely scrutinizing the culture of a potential employer alongside core considerations such as salary. Shared values ​​and vision are rising up the list of priorities for people making career choices, and employers should not underestimate its importance, especially for GenZ professionals for whom these issues tend to sit near the top of their list of requirements.

Then there’s the question of remote, hybrid or office-based working. Employers should carefully monitor the preferences of candidates and be prepared to offer working arrangements that work for everyone if they are going to fill vacant positions.

Maintain recruitment momentum

When an organization – large or small – manages to fill its available roles, there’s always the temptation to then put the recruitment process on hold and only restart it again when there are new people to hire. In the case of cybersecurity where demand is very high and people are likely to move jobs relatively frequently, this is a mistake.

Instead of waiting until there are urgent requirements before activating a recruitment strategy and risk delaying the arrival of new people, businesses should keep making contacts, having informal discussions and building their networks, even if they currently have no roles to fill. In this pursuing approach, candidates should always understand whether they are discussing an open role or involved in networking – transparency is vital. Businesses that keep recruitment momentum moving will generally find they are better placed to succeed when their needs become more urgent.

With no end to the cybersecurity talent shortage in sight, organizations must invest in both recruitment and retention. Failure to do so will increasingly mean that some teams can never break the cycle of recruitment and staff turnover, with an almost inevitable impact on the effectiveness of their cybersecurity capabilities and overall commercial success.

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