How to bridge skill gaps in dynamic technology landscape

By Giridhar LV

With a continuous change in the technology landscape, there is always bound to be a gap that exists between the existing skills and the new skills necessary.

What’s a skill?

My definition of a skill is the ability to perform a task without minimum supervision. Skills can be used in broad terms – She is skilled in carpentry, or narrowly – She has the ability to assemble an Ikea chair by following directions in the manual.

When extended to IT skills, a broad skill can be defined as – She is skilled in Microservices to a more narrowly – She can set up a Docker Container for this Node JS application.

Did you observe that these skills are all associated with getting a task done?

There is no mention in these skills about the education of the person or the certification that this person carries. Either those have been used as entry criteria to get into this job or maybe they don’t matter at all.

If a person has been assigned a task and cannot perform it, this is the Skill gap and it needs to be plugged.

Just w.r.t to IT skills, IDC estimates that Skill gaps in the IT workforce contribute to more than $6.5 Trillion in lost revenues primarily due to delayed product releases leading to a delay or loss of new business.

So, what are the ways to plug this Skills gap?

The first step is for Academia, ISVs and the Industry to speak the same language.

Academia defines outcomes in the form of a degree. What is the difference between a Computer Science graduate from a reputed institution in India compared with a reputed institution in the US? There is no way to judge it objectively. It all goes by perceptions and maybe global ranking data, but it’s rarely about the person.

ISVs, large platform providers and hyper-scale cloud vendors seem to have taken a leaf out of Academia and define their certification programs. Thankfully, these certifications are all global, so you know that every certified person from one of these vendors has all gone through an exam of similar difficulty.

But, none of these can still clearly say that a person with a graduate degree or a certification has the skill to perform a task.

The similar language that I am proposing is for academia and ISVs to list in clear terms the Skill level of the person. As an additional step, if the person can have a portfolio to demonstrate these skills, this is the icing on the cake.

The second step is to define the method of acquiring these skills.

While it is mandatory for blue-collar professionals working in jobs like carpentry, automobile or machine operators to have a large part of their learning be hands-on, this doesn’t seem to be the case with the subjects that broadly fall under IT or Computer Science.

Too much time is spent understanding and remembering concepts so that these individuals are geared up to clear academic or vendor certification exams.

It’s time for learning in IT or Computer Science subjects to also shift towards being hands-on, something like 70% being hands-on and 30% in the classroom. And even when classroom interventions are necessary, they should be driven by the hands-on exercise assigned to the students.

An anecdote from a friend’s experience suggests this approach works.

My friend runs a start-up with close to 100 employees. About 8 months ago they recruited 15 fresh graduates 8 months ago. Their degrees gave no clue about their skills. A 6-week skilling plan was devised to get them project-ready. This plan included videos that were to be referred to centred around the skills we needed. These skills were mapped into projects. Each individual had a timeframe to complete these projects with the aid of the videos and mentoring by experienced team members. 

The goal was for these fresh graduates to be hands-on from day one, any lectures were to help in only gaining the skills that were needed for us. 

At the end of 6 weeks, these individuals were ready to start contributing to mainstream development.

This leads to questions many of us ask: What did these graduates gain from 4 years of college? What is the true worth of a college degree? How should we orient that academic education to be more skill-based?

The author is founder, CEO at Nuvepro Technologies.

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