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Survey says: managers are all-in on IT talent

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Kirill Wright)

What is the impact of skilled IT staff? Are organisations investing in the development of their employees? And looking to the future, what IT skills will be valued most as we accelerate into the digital era?

These are likely questions you ask yourself – whether you are an executive, manager, or individual contributor. As a technology training and certifications provider, we at Cisco ask ourselves these same questions all the time. Recently, we surveyed 300 technology executives and managers in large US-based organisations to hear what they had to say about IT talent. We asked. They answered.

What impact is skilled talent making?

Spoiler Alert: It’s not limited to making things work.

With skilled staff in place, there is deep impact on the proper and complete use of technology systems and services. It’s an obvious benefit. Technology is put in place to improve service levels and extend service functions. Skilled talent ensures that technology is used to its full potential.

What is often overlooked is the broader impact that highly-skilled talent makes across the organisation. See Figure 1 for a full list of benefits. Skilled staff drives a positive perception of IT across lines of business and executive ranks. Of those surveyed, 78 per cent agreed that staff with certified skills build credibility and trust with the IT organisation. The CIO and IT organisation are expected to lead digital transformation efforts. This positive perception of IT staff – driven by visible positive impact on projects, systems, information, usability, accessibility, security and business partnerships – validates the entire organisation’s belief in and reliance on the IT organisation.

There is also strong belief among survey respondents that developing employees’ skills leads to improved employee retention and engagement. Engagement has been found to be a primary influence on individual performance (e.g., productivity) and organisational results (e.g., profitability). In Gallup’s 2017 report, State of the American Workplace, companies with the highest levels of employee engagement double their chance of success and, specifically, see 17 per cent higher productivity and 21 per cent higher profitability. And every technology executive and manager knows it is difficult to replace a talented employee. Finding and hiring IT workers with the right set of skills can be a lengthy and expensive effort - and one fraught with competition and compromises. Again, Gallup’s findings point to key advantages for engaging organisations – 24 per cent lower employee turnover and 41 per cent lower absenteeism.

Are managers investing in employee development? 

Spoiler Alert: The answer is more complicated than a simple, yes.

Commitment to employee development pays back an organisation in many ways. As one survey respondent stated quite directly, “The time taken and monies spent comes back tenfold in productivity and knowledge.” Given that our survey respondents spent, on average, $4,534 on training per IT employee, a tenfold return would be astounding indeed!

So what is behind that “monies spent” reference?  And just how are these monies spent across technology areas and staff?

Given the wide-ranging and hard-hitting benefits associated with IT staff development, it should be expected that many organisations are increasing their IT staff training budgets. What is even more interesting is that these increases are indicated across all major IT areas (See Figure 2). A further comparison between our 2016 and 2018 technology manager survey results shows that more organisations are increasing their training investment than just two short years ago. Obviously, the depth and breadth of realised benefits are driving heightened staff development.

In looking at the allocation of training budget across major IT areas, our survey results indicate a fairly even split. Security leads with 23 per cent of the training budget, followed closely by software/applications (21 per cent), infrastructure (21 per cent), big data/analytics (17 per cent), and business skills (17 per cent).

While this would seem to indicate an equal spread of spend across IT staff, such is not the case. Gartner’s 2017 Key Metrics data indicates that workers dedicated to application development and support account for almost 50per cent of the IT staff. And yet, software and applications training only accounts for 21 per cent of the training budget. That means that training “monies spent” per employee is higher in the other major IT areas - security, infrastructure and data analytics. Why is this? Well, it is likely that technology and business shifts are influencing how training budgets are allocated across specific IT staff segments. As one respondent advised, “Don’t just get certified in anything and everything. Be selective based on your interests as well as what will benefit you and your organisation immediately and in the future.”

What skills are needed for the future? 

Spoiler Alert: They’re not limited to the usual suspects.

The world of business and technology is changing dramatically. So too, must the skills of IT professionals. They’re no longer singularly focused or working on their own. Today’s successful technology worker must meet many demands, fill many roles, blend many skills and serve many projects. Seventy-five per cent of survey respondents favour employees with many skills and multiple certifications. Sixty-two per cent favour workers with both strong job skills and specific product knowledge. Ninety-nine per cent indicate that they use technical certifications to make IT staff hiring decisions.

The technology worker that drives the greatest impact across the organisation has both a depth and breadth of skills. See Figure 3 for key areas highlighted by our survey respondents. As one respondent stated, “Focus on several key areas and get certified as broadly and deeply as you can.”

Your role in the equation

Now, it’s your turn to self-reflect. Are you or your team making the greatest impact possible within your organisation and across your industry? As a manager or individual contributor, are you investing the time, money, and energy required to advance skills?  And, finally, are you targeting the right skills – for now, next year and the next decade? Only you know the answers to these questions. Reflect. Prepare. Succeed.

Mark Leary, directing analyst, Learning@Cisco (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Kirill Wright

Mark Leary is passionate about preparing organisations and individuals for future talent and technology advancements. In his current role as directing analyst for Learning@Cisco, he executes research, analysis and consulting projects that guide the development, delivery and evolution of Cisco's training and certifications.