Shortage of Highly Skilled Technology Workers: Fact or Fiction?

Is the shortage of highly skilled technology workers fact or fiction? If you listen to the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, it seems an absolute fact. Yet, I find myself questioning that notion. Can any of you tell me exactly what “highly skilled technology worker” means? Which skillsets are the ones that make up this worker? Is “highly skilled technology worker” the best term to use, or would “highly specialized technology worker” be a better one?

Technology workers have always had to adapt to changes in technology. They are expected to acquire the new skills necessary to work with new software releases and any new tech introduced into corporate environments. The point I want to make here is that skills are learned and acquired over time. When you are hired by a company, you have a certain skillset that gets you in the door, but the expectation is that you will also acquire other skillsets that are needed for that position. Have any of you taken a position for which this was not the case?

Following the premise that skills are learned or acquired, then why are we still hearing, as we have for quite a while now, that the needed skillsets are not available to meet market demand? In my humble opinion, if there was just a skills gap, this gap would have been filled long ago. Would it be fair to say that there may be a talent gap instead? By “talent,” I mean that special ability that allows a person to do something extremely well, that is instinctive and entails a passion that might sometimes border on obsession. Are you able to discern that true talent via resumes, interviews, background checks, and college transcripts?

I have heard it said that when it comes to talent, these are just a few of many factors that can shine light on a person. Talent can be influenced by environmental factors as well as genetic factors. Have you ever been inspired by a person or a team that helped bring out the best in you? In my humble opinion, some people are born with natural talent, while others learn or discover things they are really good at, and still others work extra hard just to be able to compete.

So to review, we are told there is a skill shortage in IT, but it looks like more of a technology specialist shortage. There has always been and will always be an expectation of constant change in computing. Skill sets are acquired either from training or hands-on experience. So why hasn’t the industry been able to adapt and adjust to these changes?

Why would companies not invest the time and effort to provide training opportunities for current staff engineers to acquire needed skillsets? It appears to me that rather than train and develop, companies are searching for people who already have the exact skillsets they need. Have you seen some of the job postings in which companies are seeking someone with ten years’ experience with a product or technology that isn’t even four years old? What about postings in which the company lists all the different technologies in its environment and expects to find someone with ten years’ experience in each and every one of them? Granted, companies want to list all of those technologies in order to locate applicants with at least a good number of the skills they are looking for. But I have to say that I have communicated with some technology recruiters who seem to believe the technology list must be fully checked off before they can submit a candidate for a position.

I have heard that a reason for the lack of training opportunities may be that with the rapid rate of change in the industry, there is a fear that today’s specialist will too soon become tomorrow’s has-been. Are skillsets being looked at as a commodity that you find when you need it and replace in a few years when it is time to move in a different direction? I am not quite sure I subscribe to that thought, my reason being that skillset shortages seem to appear when a new technology takes hold and becomes the next best thing to sliced bread. Demand for that skill becomes high and then levels out once enough people have acquired the new skillset.

Which boils things down to my last point. Is the perceived shortage due to companies and recruiters who are struggling to find the “talent” in people, or could it be possibly that in their attempt to find the right person—the one with ten years’ experience in a four-year-old technology—they lose sight of other skillsets that could help demonstrate a person’s ability to learn and figure things out? Worse yet, is today’s talent missing the passion and the obsession that is needed to be truly great? I think that the problem may be “all of the above.” But we have also come full circle to where we were when we first started our careers. Do you remember the time when you were looking for one of your first IT jobs and heard that you lacked the experience needed? Well, it appears to me that this is what is happening today. Engineers are missing the detailed skillset the companies are looking for, and the only way for them to get that experience is for the companies to give them a chance to learn it.

What are your thoughts? Is the shortage of highly skilled technology workers fact? Or is it fiction?

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