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New Challenges, New Skills

Soft skills still top of the requirement list for tech employers, according to data from online career and hiring marketplace Digital Profile. Learn which skills your business needs to stay competitive and profitable.

* This story was originally published on Silicon UK by David Howell

The skills businesses posses are often a differentiator in their market sector. CIOs and their CTO colleagues need to ensure they are hiring workers with the right skills to ensure their enterprises stay profitable and have future-proofing. Research from Digital Profile suggests employers are looking for soft skills including JavaScript programming language, as well as CSS, PHP, UX (user experience design) and GIT (a distributed version control system for tracking changes in source code during software development). Founder and CEO of Digital Profile, Dan Lewis says: “The fact that those essential soft skills still top the needs for employers comes as no surprise, as strong communication is vital no matter the industry, and is an asset no business should be without. “It’s also great to see so many job-hunters matching up to those skills that are clearly in high demand. This is one of the many reasons why we loved the idea of a digital profile, as our applicants can show prospective employers that they have creative, literacy and numeracy skills in abundance.” Also, HackRank found in their research: “IoT (53%), just above Deep Learning (50%), is predicted to be the most adopted new technology in the next two years. The increasing connectivity of homes, cars, and even cities is evidence of this technology having the best chance of real-world application by 2020.” And in the Workplace Learning Trends survey, web development, IoT and quantum computing are in the top ten skills needed. “We also took a look at the emerging tech skills that 40+ million people are learning on Udemy. Gatsby.js (skill number 1) is a new web development framework tool that is on the rise. “There’s a growing shift to “static site” framework tools like Gatsby.js as a way to build the web of the future. Other web development tools like React Hooks (number 3 skill), a new addition to React 16.8, and Next.js (number 5 skill) as well as SwiftUI, a user interface tool for Apple apps, also top the list of emerging skills 2020. In AI and data science, Apache Airflow (#6 skill), an open-source tool for complex computational and data processing, and Pegasystems (number 8), certification for digital process automation software, also make the top 10 of emerging skills. Finally, brand new skills like quantum computing and ESP32, used in the internet of things, showed up on our emerging skills list this year.” One area that businesses are finding it difficult to recruit into is security. According to Tripwire, 83% of respondents to their survey feel more overworked going into 2020 than they were at the beginning of 2019, and 82% said their teams were understaffed. The strain on cybersecurity teams is exacerbated by the inability to find experienced staff, and 85% acknowledged it has become more difficult over the past few years to hire skilled security professionals. “It’s getting harder and harder for organisations to fill open positions on their security teams,” said Tim Erlin, vice president of product management and strategy at Tripwire. “Larger organisations, which you might assume have more resources, are experiencing the skills gap issue even more acutely than smaller organisations. It’s a challenge to hire the right skill sets – they keep changing along with security, which is always evolving. Nearly all of those we surveyed said the skills required to be a great security professional have changed over the past few years.” In recent years, cybersecurity conferences and online communities have been emphasising the need to manage work stress and increase focus on mental health. While 93% expressed interest in understanding wellness issues, only 19% of companies provide resources for managing the stress associated with the specific issues of IT security. The survey also explored views on chief information security officer (CISO) involvement. Of the 85% that said they have CISOs in their organisations, 40% said their CISOs are not involved enough in day-to-day operations, while 10% believed their CISOs are already too involved. Erlin added: “CISOs should be focusing on high-level strategy, but because their teams are understaffed and have an overwhelming volume of work on their desks, they may have to get involved in daily operations if they haven’t already. To solve the problems caused by skills gap issues, training and managed services are both good approaches. By partnering with providers, organisations can free themselves from operational work and gain insights that will help inform decisions. And because recruiting and training isn’t always possible, managed services provide businesses with a way to augment their teams.” New skills The question many businesses are asking themselves is what skills they have across their workforces, but also if these are being used efficiently. Indeed, a survey carried out by Starmind discovered employees uses just 38% of their knowledge and expertise at work, meaning firms are failing to unlock even half of the intellectual capital and brainpower of their people. At the same time, 75% of employees say their organisation would benefit from accessing more of their expertise, and 65% have knowledge their employer isn’t aware of or doesn’t capitalise upon, with 90% of employees want more opportunities to share knowledge and expertise. “Not being able to quickly and efficiently access organizational intelligence is a huge burden on productivity,” commented Oliver Muhr, CEO of Starmind. “Failing to find, unlock and share knowledge effectively not only leads to a duplication of work and time wasted but makes the brain drain a real threat. As the war for talent, expertise and skills heats up, organizations need to do more to make use of their collective brainpower and skills. Giving employees on-demand access to the information they need can plug productivity holes, enable them to excel in their job and solve problems quickly.” Clearly, an area of development all businesses are actively assessing is automation. Skills and automation are close bedfellows. All CIOs and CTOs will use more automated systems across their enterprises. How these connect to and, support human workers has yet to come into focus. Says Dr Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute: “The perspective around the effects of automated technologies for IT security continues to shift year after year. As adoption of automation becomes more mainstream and improves the effectiveness and efficiency of IT security staff, they are anticipating that they will be able to accomplish more with fewer bodies. What is likely is for there to be a consolidation of existing roles, rather than an elimination. This means better opportunities for employees to up-level their current skills to create more value-added roles as the human side of security remains as important as ever.” In their report ‘Staffing the IT Security Function in the Age of Automation’ the Ponemon Institute concluded: Overall, the majority of companies (77%) continue to use or plan to use automation in the next three years. The biggest takeaway in this year’s study is that the majority of respondents (51%) now believe that automation will decrease headcount in the IT security function, an increase from 30% in last year’s study. This increased belief was more pronounced in the UK, with 56% answering that it would reduce headcount, compared to 45% of US respondents. Furthermore, there was an increase of 4% in UK organisations saying they currently use automation from 2019-20, and a decrease of 3% stating the same in the US. Further, concerns by employees losing their jobs because of automation have increased to 37% over last year’s 28%. Meanwhile, the lack of in-house IT security expertise continues to be a problem. And, 69% of organisations’ IT security functions are understaffed; a slight improvement over last year’s 75% Commenting, Corin Imai, senior security advisor at DomainTools told Silicon UK: “There has certainly been a push to include more STEM programmes in school curricula, although more needs to be done to encourage children from diverse backgrounds to pursue these subjects in higher education. “GCHQ has a list of approved courses, among which Edinburgh Napier University’s MSc in Advanced Security and Digital Forensics, Lancaster University’s MSc in Cyber Security, the University of Oxford’s MSc in Software and Systems Security, Royal Holloway’s MSc in Information Security and the University of York’s MSc in Cyber Security.” Imai concluded: “Increasingly, however, hiring managers are looking for soft skills, rather than purely technical backgrounds. Educational centres wishing to introduce cybersecurity programmes must bear this in mind when designing the study curriculum, and make sure they account for the comprehensive expertise, the flexibility, the communication skills and the adaptability that the cybersecurity workforce of the future will need. Equally, hiring managers should be open-minded about the candidates they consider for positions within IT security functions, as an unusual route into this career can be an invaluable asset in today’s evolving threat landscape.” Future skills The skills businesses will need in the future will be influenced by technological change. One clear trend is for AI to become commonplace across all business environments. “Employees across the UK are ready to embrace new technologies in the workplace,” said Mark Armstrong, vice president for UK and Ireland at Genesys. “The research shows that UK workers understand the benefits of AI and are overwhelmingly positive about its potential impact. It is also evident that employees understand that businesses will need to leverage AI and other emerging technologies to maintain longevity, as only 21% believe their companies will remain competitive without it.” The convergence between humans and technology is increasing, as reflected by the fact 41% of millennials say they spend at least half of their time at work interacting with machines and computers rather than humans. These findings suggest that when it comes to implementing new technologies, employers will need to find the right balance between technology and human workers. And businesses can’t be complacent. As Prof. Michael Lewis, former chair of the computer science department and current Programme Director for the Data Science Programme at Nazarbayev University points out, ongoing training and education are vital for long-term business success. “Key staff members are often too mission-critical and over-worked for the employer to allocate the time necessary for employees to benefit from opportunities for professional or continuing education. Technical skills are often needed immediately, such that it is more common for the CTOs to hire new staff than to plan the year or two in advance for re-skilling and training. At Nazarbayev University, we are trying to organise the university graduate courses more conveniently, by scheduling in afternoons or time at weekends to dedicate to re-skilling staff. The skills your business needs today and, will need tomorrow are in constant evolution. Currently, the demand for soft skills is high as digital technologies and platforms continue to develop. Having a clearly defined skills development program for recruitment but also your existing workforce will ensure your enterprise always has the skills it needs to succeed.

Silicon in Focus

Nelson Phillips, professor of strategy and innovation at Imperial College Business School.

Nelson Phillips, professor of strategy and innovation at Imperial College Business School.

What are the top three technical skills businesses struggle to find with new recruits?

The most common complaint I hear at the moment is a lack of people who understand the application of data analytics to business problems. While there is an increasing number of people trained in analytics, the use of this to real-world problems is still in very short supply. This includes technical people who understand business but also business grads with an understanding of how to use data analytics.

The second most common complaint I hear is actually a lack of people who know how to lead technical teams effectively. While this might not seem like a specialised skill, leading technical teams is a unique skill and people who can do this are also in short supply.

The other big area is coding. This might seem like a problem we should have solved by now, but there continues to be a real lack of people with coding skills in the talent pool.

Are the right technical skills being taught at university and other educational centres?

I think the universities are doing a better job, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. The rate of innovation in technology means that the topics taught in many programmes do not include essential and relevant topics leaving companies to train their new recruits when they start work. In business schools, in particular, there is still a lot of content that doesn’t reflect the growing importance of data analytics and AI in management decision making.

Are CTOs turning to re-skilling their existing staff to meet their needs?

Yes, this is an essential and ongoing process. The new opportunities made available by new technological advances are often best accessed by taking technical people with experience in the company and with a company’s legacy technology and upskilling them.

How is automation impacting on businesses when they are looking to recruit technical staff? Are they asking whether the technology could replace a new recruit?

It is really mostly about hiring new people who can work with technology rather than technology replacing people. It is about technology augmenting staff not replacing them.

What will technical skills be needed in the near future?

I believe that the most significant area of growth lies in applications of AI in business. While applications are increasing, we are not really yet very good at training people who have the technical skills and business understanding to really have an impact.

The people with an understanding of the technology are not really very clear on the applications and people who understand the applications are often weak on the technology. Training the ambidextrous individuals that organizations need is currently being developed, but I believe we will have a huge demand before we have the training programmes in place.

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