By Jim Corgel
As a tech industry veteran, I have seen wave after wave of technology change—from mainframe computers, to PCs, to the Internet and beyond. There was a lag between the introduction of technologies and society’s ability to train all of the workers needed to use and support them. Call it the skills gap.
Today we are faced with one of the largest skills gap in history. Take the data analyst for example, the United States will suffer a shortfall of 1.5 million individuals trained in this area by 2018, according to McKinsey & Co.
The gap exists because four revolutionary technologies are emerging at once: business analytics, cloud computing, mobile computing and social business. Each of them is a force to be reckoned with. Together they have the potential to transform businesses, government services and society. I believe that these new technologies could help rekindle economic growth around the world. But only if we close the skills gap—and fast.
This alarming situation is spelled out in a report published today by IBM, Fast Track to the Future: The 2012 IBM Tech Trends Report. Its conclusions are drawn from a global survey of more than 1,200 professionals who make technology decisions for their organizations, 250 academics and 450 students.
The results are shocking. Only one out of 10 of the organizations surveyed say they have the skills needed to address these emerging technologies. Sixty percent of business decision makers feel there’s a significant skills gap. Among educators and students, the situation is even more dire. Seventy-three percent see a sizable gap. And nearly half of them see major shortfalls in their institution’s ability to respond.
It’s clear that these technologies will be crucial to business success and national competitiveness. IBM’s Global CEO Study, published in May, showed that advanced technology is strategically important for business leaders. For the first time, it outranks all other external factors as the top driver of change in organizations over the next three to five years. It’s even more important than the economy and market forces.
There’s a huge opportunity if people and organizations can respond quickly. Businesses need to tune their radar and plot out their skills requirements for the years ahead. Universities need to reassess their current programs. Are they educating students for the jobs of the past or the jobs of the future?
How should companies and universities prepare? Our Tech Trends study, conducted by the IBM Center for Applied Insights, provides some guidance based on the performance of pacesetters in the business community.
Businesses should aggressively build depth and breadth in the emerging skills among their employees. They should encourage experimentation and let their employees try out new technologies. And they should work with their business partners to set a shared skills agenda.
Universities should build new programs and curricula to address the skills gap. They should incorporate real-world technology and business cases to prepare students for a rapidly changing environment. And they should develop a local industry ecosystem so they’re aware of the latest trends and can place students in internships that provide them with the most up-to-date expertise.
Students and career professionals need to peer into the future, so they understand the possibilities and make sure they’re acquiring the right skills. The job of market research analystranks No. 7 on CNN Money’s 2012 list of The Best Jobs in America, with top pay of nearly $100,000 and 10-year job growth of 41.2 percent. That’s more than double the average. Preparing for or retraining for such a career is tricky. It requires a combination of math and statistics with software programming skills and business knowledge.
The last point I want to make is that the skills gap is global. IBM is expanding rapidly in Africa. We see great potential for our business in the coming years. We’re hiring rapidly and recently set up an IBM Research lab in Nairobi, Kenya. We’re going to need thousands of people with advanced technology skills.
I know that the young people of Africa want to meet us half way. An IBMer working in Kenya recently told me that it’s not just university students who are absolutely mad about acquiring technology skills; even the high school kids are desperate to learn so they can participate in the next technology revolution. Through our university, research and internal job training programs, we’re going to help them realize their dreams.
The skills gap may be huge, but it’s not unsolvable. We all have to pull together—businesses, policy makers, universities and students—so we can fill it and take full advantage of this great wave of technological change.