The IT skills gap is a giant problem. Help fix it with these smart management moves

CIOs who want to find the next generation of tech talent should focus on how they can help to make their internal talent even better.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Skills shortages are at an all-time high, with 67% of digital leaders struggling to get hold of the right talent, especially in key areas such as big data, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

With talent tough to find and IT budgets constrained, a focus on development and mentorship programmes could be the smartest way for CIOs to fill their digital skills gaps. Three tech leaders share their best-practice tips for honing internal talent.

1. Help good people become great

Danny Attias, chief digital and information officer at British charity Anthony Nolan, says mentorship and development is hugely important to his organisation. The charity runs apprenticeships to help talented staff flourish.

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

"Starting with people who have an appetite for growth, and who are ambitious, makes mentoring a lot easier – they want to succeed," he says. "We start with that as a baseline, and then it's about giving them the tools and the training they need, and providing them with every possible opportunity."

Attias says the aim of the charity's mentorship and development programmes is to help talented people get even better. He gives the example of someone who started in an entry-level IT job with the charity eight years ago and was recently promoted to director of product.

"There's been some big steps on the way," he says. "I've secured her external mentorship from a digital design agency, so that she can learn, and the deal is that she learns from the outside and then she teaches me about digital."

Attias says the charity is always looking for new ways to inspire its talent. For example three developers at the organisation, who recently completed 18-month software engineering apprenticeships, and are now running key IT and data projects at the charity.

Education is also baked into the charity's day-to-day engineering work. Each two-week sprint at Anthony Nolan includes half a day of personal development, which Attias says adds up to a significant amount of time on an annual basis.

The tech team self-organises this development process – they decide who learns what, how knowledge is imparted and exchanged, and how this learning process contributes to continuous personal growth.

"So we're all teaching each other all the time and we're all learning. None of us pretends to be experts in what we do or that we've ever reached a limit," says Attias.

2. Make sure people's objectives are met

Joe Soule, CTO at Capital One Europe, says he feels lucky that people have taken the time and effort to mentor him at particular points during his career. He currently mentors people in his own organisation and unlike coaching, which he feels is more generalised, Soule says effective mentorship centres on career development.

"There is always the great debate between coaching and mentoring. If it's mentoring, then it's likely that I've personally been through the problem, and have an idea of how to solve it, and I'm prepared to share with others how I went about solving that issue – and then they can choose to take that into how they plan to go through their career," he says.

When he provides coaching, Soule says it's likely he doesn't know the specifics of the problem but does know the person involved. While coaching is often provided to companies via external experts, Soule says the coaching he provides internally tends to centre on his relationship with the individual.

"I tend to coach them on things like objectives and performance. And for me, that coaching conversation has to satisfy three things: are they interested, does it leverage their ability, and is there an organisational need," he says.

SEE: Digital transformation: The new rules for getting projects done

Soule splits coaching needs into three areas: chores, prayers and hobbies. If they're interested and they have an ability, but there's no organisational need, then that's a hobby. If there's an organisational need and they're interested, but they have no ability, then that's a prayer. And if there's no interest, but there is an ability and a need, that's a chore.

"Most people's lives are made up of a collection of chores, prayers and hobbies, rather than a solid objective that meets all three of those things. So I look from a coaching perspective to make sure that people's objectives, particularly their performance objectives, meet those three criteria and are written in their own voice," he says.

3. Share your knowledge across communities

Shane Read, CISO at commodities trading firm Noble Group, says mentoring is a crucial element in the creation of rounded, next-generation IT professionals – and he likes to share his best-practice cybersecurity knowledge whenever he can.

"I've always been a mentor – I love mentoring. My take on the cybersecurity industry is that we have to share: mentoring is knowledge transfer 101. I have mentored since my first job and it helps me get so much out of this industry," he says.

Read says good mentoring sometimes involve recognising that people can learn from other people in other businesses, too – even when they're one of your best workers.

One of his staff left recently after working with Noble for two and a half years. Read describes the worker, who was a good fit for the IT department, as "skilled and talented". However, after helping the professional develop, Read knew it was time for him to move on.

"I knew he'd be better off outside of this company because we don't provide the right challenges for his skillset. I've just recently helped him find the next big role, and that's from my industry contacts. It's all about finding the right place for the right people – we can all do the job, but you want to be able to grow and expand," he says.

Read says it's worth remembering that cybersecurity is quite a small industry. Individuals are likely to cross paths again, whether it's at an industry event or in another workplace. Mentoring people and then staying in touch helps managers and their staff.

"I still talk to people I first met in the industry 20 years ago. Some of them I deeply respect and will continue to do so because they're furthering the industry. I try to emulate that, too. Cybersecurity is such a collaborative industry," he says.

Editorial standards