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Is there really a skills shortage in the IT community?

You’ve probably heard about the skills gap.  We are constantly warned that the workforce is lacking the right skills for today and will be even worse equipped in the future. Apparently, there is just not enough talent. A report from the Department for Business Innovation & Skills in January 2016 raised this issue noting ‘a shortage in suitable digital skills for digital jobs persists in the UK labour market … a major risk to business growth, innovation and broader societal development’.

This is nonsense. The talent is there but businesses need to be a bit cuter with how they build out these skills.

At the end of 2015, there were over 274,000 programmers and software developers in the UK alone all with different specialisations that could be of use to any business. The skills are there.

What most businesses need to do is change their outlook and approach to finding the talent they need. Developers are a vital resource – every business is a technology business, after all – and crucial to success, driving business and digital transformation. A mixture of technology tools and recruitment processes will ensure you have all you need to thrive.

Forget the ‘Perfect Candidate’, teach skills

They don’t exist. Any recruitment process starts with the desired skill set that should map back to a problem to be solved. Software development is based on hard skills, easily defined and understood. Need an Android app? Get a Java developer in. Looking for an iOS app? That would be Objective-C and Swift. No matter how good a developer is, if they don’t specialise in the language you’re looking for they aren’t suitable, right? To a point, yes.

It’s true that you can’t completely retrain every new developer in a new language – that would be like hiring a native German speaker for a role that requires Mandarin. However, with a little lateral thinking, you can find certain skills which are much more easily transferred than you might first think. Sticking rigidly to a job spec could be the difference between finding a candidate that fits your company culture and not finding a candidate at all.

Provide them with tools to do the job

What needs to be done is equip your development teams with the tools and environment to maximise their skills. As I mentioned, software development is an industry based on various specialisations. However, certain tools and frameworks can make it possible for developers to apply their skills more widely to different tasks, applications and platforms to those they might not typically work.

The NativeScript framework, for instance, allows developers with knowledge of Javascript – typically used for web development – to create native-style apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The benefit of this is obvious. If one developer can create apps for all major mobile OSes using one language, you don’t need two or three different specialists to fill your company’s skill gap. Finding developers who have skills that can be applied widely, with the right help, broadens the potential talent pool available to you.

What motivates developers?

While the skills gap has been vastly overplayed, the skills they bring are still in high demand. Winning over potential candidates is far from a given. Understanding what those software developers want and what makes them tick is key to making sure your business has all the skills it needs. In a recent survey conducted by Stack Overflow, over 50,000 developers responded to questions about their work. Aside from salary, 37.1 per cent said flexible working hours is important. More interestingly, 35.9 per cent of developers feel that building something that’s significant is an important factor in their job. Developers need to be sold on your vision and feel that they are part of delivering that. A good salary and standard perks of the job are important, but in order to attract the best to your business, you have to think outside of the box a little more.

You’ve been looking in the wrong place

The report from Stack Overflow highlights the wealth of talent available: 73% of developers are actively looking for new job opportunities. However, 51% of developers labelled recruiters as the most annoying thing about the employment process. It’s clear that standard processes such as going to a recruiter, using Linkedin won’t really cut it when trying to fill positions in your developer team. You need to think outside of the box.

A good place to start is forums. The software developer community is exactly that, a community. They are active on forums, where they share insights, tutorials and general ramblings.  These are the perfect environment for businesses to build out their talent pipeline. In terms of job discovery, 28.3 per cent of developers said a friend referred them, higher than any other job discovery method. Familiarising yourself with the community will go a long way to finding and attracting the right talent. You will be able to identify regular contributors in your region, what they’re talking about and find out who to target in the wider community.

Think smarter, act smarter

Whatever the role – developer, IT, sales or marketing – your workforce is your most precious resource. Getting the right people in the door should be one of your primary concerns. But don’t let the idea of a ‘skills gap’ force you into making rushed decisions or worse, paralyse you with the kind of fear that leads to indecision. Understanding what you need and then applying a little lateral thinking will allow you to find the developer talent you need from what is actually a substantial pool.

Mark Armstrong is VP & MD EMEA at Progress

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