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Rising IT Skills Gaps Coincide with Drop in Instructor-Led Training Attendance

Aug. 30, 2019
Ryan Day

A lack of expert interaction is having serious repercussions

Don’t tell IT decision-makers that skills gaps are a “myth.” Unfortunately, they’re real and they’re disruptive.

The Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Report annually surveys IT professionals about topics ranging from their pay to their preferred learning style. It’s a complete examination of worldwide IT departments.

In our 2016 report, skills gaps were a problem experienced by 31% of IT decision-makers. That number is now 79%.


Why the sudden spike in skills gaps?

One theory is that skills gaps existed in 2016, they just went undetected. This is possible, though decision-makers in-tune with their staff should be cognizant of any skills shortages.

A more likely assumption is that organizations—and IT departments, specifically—are struggling to keep pace with digital transformation. Emerging technologies, such as cloud, AI and software-defined networking (SDN), require new skills that IT departments didn’t possess a few years ago. The digital shift has occurred so quickly, training cannot be completed quickly enough to keep pace with evolving skills needs.

So, with shifting tech and shifting priorities, new skills gaps have emerged.

But what if there’s an additional factor at play, too?

More and more, IT professionals are relying on training to build skills—85% of our respondents took some form of training this year, even though only 34% of IT decision-makers approved training.

More IT professionals are training but the type of training they pursue has shifted.

Since 2016, skills gaps have skyrocketed 48%. During the same timeframe, attendance for instructor-led training has dipped. And the numbers are jarring. From 2016 to 2018:

  • There was a 10% drop in IT professionals taking classroom training
  • There was an 11% drop in IT professionals taking virtual classroom training

Those same professionals instead turned to self-paced e-learning, with the perception that it will save them time and money.


E-learning plays a role, but doesn’t fulfill all of your skills needs

There’s a place along the learner’s journey for e-learning. Paid libraries are tools for adding skills adjacent to your job role or those that may emerge over the next 12-24 months. When the criticality of the skills need increases, more formal training methods are advised.

For high-priority or high-risk skills, instructor-led training supplants e-learning. This is mainly due to the expert conversations that shape the classroom training environment.

Cushing Anderson, International Data Corporation (IDC), Program Vice President, IT Education and Certification research, told Global Knowledge the opportunity for interaction is an advantage of instructor-led training. An open dialogue with an expert can help a student understand how the course material relates to them and their job.

“Instructor-led training allows the instruction to be contextualized,” Anderson said. “Students (and instructors) need that context to make the content relevant.”

E-learning libraries have the advantage of content depth, but is there a benefit in opening the entire catalog up to employees? If you do, you risk them training in a topic that hasn’t been prioritized by the organization. If leadership and training coordinators are transparent about their training strategy, it’s easier to narrow training options for staff so they only train on topics that are relevant and are directly aligned with business goals.

Training just to train isn’t efficient. Make sure there’s a strategy and goals are established before training is purchased.


Skills gaps consequences: delays, adjusted project plans, lost revenue

Gone are the days of the IT department jack-of-all-trades. Increasing complexity throughout the industry has bred specialization—the need to have individual employees with unique skill sets.

In a recent survey of IT training buyers, IDC determined how widespread and consequential a lack of IT skills can be for an organization.

With a glaring lack of IT skills industry-wide, 63% of IT buyers believe the importance of training has increased.1 Tactical training and professional development are as critical as ever.

"IDC believes that by 2020, 90% of all organizations will have adjusted project plans, delayed product/service releases, incurred costs or lost revenue because of lack of IT skills, with losses worldwide totaling $390 billion annually. IT organizations must have robust strategic skills development plans in place for all critical IT roles," Anderson said in the report.


Instructor interaction is your secret skills weapon

Face-to-face training with a subject matter expert is your best option when it comes to adding the critical skills needed to fulfill your core job role and ensure the success of high-profile projects.

Technology isn’t stopping. It’s being created, enhanced and revamped at an astonishing speed. At the same time, IT professionals are getting less and less human interaction with their training. How does that make sense?


E-learning compared to classroom training

Comparison table about how e-learning compares to classroom training

E-learning may be more convenient but it comes with its own set of risks aside from expert access. Any kind of self-paced training requires dedication and a strict calendar, as many e-learning students never complete their training courses. The opposite is true for classroom or virtual classroom training, where you have a designated class schedule and an instructor to keep you on task.

You also risk subjecting yourself to outdated resources with large learning libraries that cannot be updated in real time. A classroom instructor has the benefit of modernizing course material the day of class if necessary. You know you’re learning the most current subject matter.

When you really need to learn something, rely on the experts, not what’s seemingly most convenient.

The productivity gained by e-learning is entirely negated if the required skill isn’t acquired. When the skill need is critical, why risk not learning it? High-value projects require a deeper investment that only instructor-led training can fulfill.

And the shift may already be starting. According to the Global Knowledge 2019 IT Skills and Salary Report, 41% of IT professionals took classroom training in the past year (up five percent from 2018), and 58% said classroom was their formal training preference. With skills gaps rising to unparalleled heights, IT professionals may be changing their perception about the value of instructor-led training versus the convenience of e-learning.

You can’t dodge skills gaps—attack them head on with the appropriate training. Relying solely on e-learning will not help you keep pace with digital transformation. In fact, if that’s your only learning method, you’ll likely see skills gaps continue to grow in the coming years.


1 IDC, 2019 IT Training Buyer Survey Spotlight: Impact of Skills Gap and the Need for Strategic IT Skills Development, Doc #US44842319, March 2019