How to Ensure Your Business Doesn't Disappear Into the Skills Gap

A man works on a computer science program.

To capitalize on the most sought-after skills of tomorrow, business leaders need to invest in skills gap training today.

These days, the outlook for the global financial services sector is bright indeed, buoyed in large part by the lightning-quick advance of "fintech" solutions that have dramatically improved profit margins in a number of areas. Spirits are generally high — but there's also a growing awareness that the very same employees that made this renaissance possible could soon be its undoing. Without significant investment in skills gap training, the current wave of prosperity in the financial sector could easily peter out or reverse course entirely.

The Problems

According to the Software Group Alliance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science-related jobs available in the U.S. but not even 400,000 graduates with the skills necessary to fill them. That means that fewer than one in three of these positions will be filled by an applicant who is already suited to it.

Even large firms that can usually afford to out-bid their competition will suffer, since they will require such a vast number of these crucial workers that even their inflated budgets could strain to meet demand. Even worse, restricting the analysis to the ever more important field of data science shows that demand for workers could outstrip supply by 2024, reports Quartz.

There are forward-thinking initiatives that help bring training into sync with the needs of industry. The Worker Innovation and Opportunity Act was intended to foster investment in the skills most needed by industry. The White House could cut its budget to help incentivize states to provide that funding on their own, as The Washington Post reports.

At first, the costs of the skills gap will be borne by small business. In fact, small businesses already report real problems attracting top talent, as noted by CNBC, though given the relatively small volume of work these businesses need, they can mitigate the problem at least somewhat by contracting a freelance IT firm. That won't work for the larger organizations that vaccuum up the most promising graduates, should that tap ever run dry for them, nor will it work for even modestly-sized financial services firms, given their unusually high need for IT labor.

The Solutions

Put simply, the solution to a lack of skilled labor is to get more. One way is to import more expert labor from other countries, but this can't realistically fill the enormity of the demand from U.S. business, and widespread linguistic differences within an organization can carry its own challenges. Another option is to embrace the new technological skills gap, and simply offset it with more technology and automation, but again this can't ultimately fix the heart of the problem. Early school programs aimed at investing kids with computer skills are a great idea, but though they could be the answer they will also take a decade or more to produce people of adult working age.

Aside from broad social and political activism aimed at changing government policy, there are some steps that individual businesses can take to improve their own access to IT talent. One is to start now by sending lower-level IT workers or even non-IT workers back to school for practical vocational training. This is a tough decision for many managers to make, given the costs in both fees and lost labor, but it could just turn out to be the investment that makes one organization surge forward through 2020, and another to languish with outdated, buggy tech.

Another option is to provide training where needed. This obviously takes more time and effort to organize, but it is often far less expensive and, more importantly, it does not provide a universal accreditation that will be respected by all employers. This helps to allay the worry that skills investment will end up benefiting a competitor, and ensures that workers don't waste time learning aspects of the field that are irrelevant to their future roles. With the right job title, this arrangement can eventually also benefit the worker's career prospects.

Finally, consider the needs and wishes of top IT workers, themselves. How could your business cater to their unique wishes, which often line up well with those of millennial workers in general? It's tricky, but the overall goal is to make the investments necessary to satisfy most of the demand for skilled labor, while also preparing to win the hiring war for the majority of the rest.