Archive for the ‘Skills Shortage’ Category

There is no “skills shortage”

Friday, December 23, 2011
posted by saille429

square-peg-round-hole
Allow me to share a discussion I started on Linked-In’s “Getting IT Right” group.


 

The recruiting industry has created a wonderfully self-serving “skills shortage” – perhaps in much the same way that the financial industry was able to create its own bubble. There aren’t enough square pegs for all the square holes, yet we are sitting on mountains of round, triangular and hexagonal pegs of all colours and sizes, all desperate for a chance!

There’s talented people everywhere, but you have to be a bit open minded, and you have to be prepared to take a rough diamond and shape it yourself. It is myopic and lazy to sit back and wait for the perfectly qualified candidate to be presented to you. There is a widespread assumption that a recognised certification in a particular discipline equates to a competency in that discipline, and if we simply find the candidates with skills X and Y they will likely be able to do the job that requires skills X and Y. How simple recruiting is, right?

I say that that assumption is naive, and leads to good job candidates being overlooked every day, to the detriment of the company and the nation as a whole. I would suggest there is not so much an IT skills shortage, but a chronic lack of people able to spot talent if it walked right past them. Recruiters with no in-depth knowledge of an industry (most of them) will add no value above CV keyword filtering software. How can they be expected to? (BTW, anyone who thinks IT is one industry, doesn’t understand the IT industry – IT probably has more specialised niches and roles than medicine).

Certifications are just one indicator that an individual may have a competency in a given field. Certifications typically rely on exams, and exam questions are crammed and memorised then recited. The certification then only proves that someone has a good memory and general literacy in the field, useful, but memory is a skill that is becoming less and less critical in a searchable online IT world where information in the form of facts can be found quickly and easily.

There are far more powerful indicators of competency. If you are interviewing someone who claims to have a knowledge in a particular field, and you (the interviewer) are experienced in that field, you should be able to spot a fake in 3 questions or less. If you cannot, you add no value to the process, and you should not be interviewing. It is even possible in zero questions, just get them talking about their experiences in their field, or their areas of interest in their field if they lack experience. If they know nothing about the field, let them talk about their other life experiences, how they teach themselves new things, what motivates them, why you should employ them, and so on. You will quickly gauge their enthusiasm, the depth of their understanding, and their approach to life.

Do they recite conventional, textbook answers to common problems or do they think for themselves? Can they provide multiple solutions and ideas to solving a problem, or are they trying to simply give you the answer they think you want? Ask open questions, given them no clue as to the expected answer (indeed have no expected answer) and just let them go for it.

This means that wading though CV’s just got a whole lot harder right? Perhaps, but if you can spot a fake vs someone worth talking to, then you can cut an interview down to 5 minutes or less for the unsuitable, and longer for the more suitable candidates.

Complaining about a skills shortage is like complaining about the weather – our energy might be better directed to working around it – in other words play the hand you’re dealt, search harder for talent, be open minded about what talent might look like, be prepared to help create talent, and be prepared to invest more time in the search for talent. Perhaps the mistake many employers may make in the recruiting process is to approach the market with a desperate need to fill a hole, coupled with an arbitrary set of required attributes (pay range, certifications, experience level etc.). These attributes are often nothing more than a wish list. When they find it hard to fill the position, they blame it on the “skills shortage”, and everyone nods in sober agreement, perhaps throwing in that the government needs to “do something about it”.

Knowledge workers are becoming increasingly specialised. In addition to a vast array of niche specialist technology roles, functional roles, vertical market specialisations, and technology product specialisations, there are vastly different levels of experience. That’s not even considering the range of personalities, and the impact that has on the suitability of a candidate to a role. Then you have to throw in that NZ is a very small market – some skillsets are held by only a handful of people in the entire country. The result is that every knowledge worker is different, and the dated concept of one “resource” being a substitute for another, as if knowledge workers are some kind of high-tech labourer, is very 20th century.

Employers could instead take on keen apprentices and put them alongside their more experienced staff. When that is done right, there’s a kind of magic that happens when skills rub off, often at an astonishing rate. By having a range of experience levels on a team, from apprentice to senior, the employer should have options to promote from within. Then they’d have the option of hiring a new apprentice when a senior member moves on, and moving everyone in between up a notch.