Executive Edits with IBM's Ismail Amla: Three Keys to Securing Your Future Technical Workforce

Digital technology is affecting every aspect of work. From delivering personalized consumer experiences to connecting the supply chain via a web of sensors, one common element drives success—access to skilled individuals who can apply their technical expertise to drive business results.  

However, many of our clients are witnessing a lack of available technical talent. Today, there are more than six times as many jobs for web developers—and eight times as many for information security analysts—as there are individuals hired to fill them. By 2020, it has been estimated that there will be 1.4 million jobs for computer specialists, but that only 29 percent will be filled by newly-trained university graduates.

Why? There are a few reasons. One is that there aren’t enough university graduates with the right skills. Another is that it’s becoming harder to bring skilled workers from abroad—considerable uncertainty surrounds government programs that facilitate the entry of technologists into the U.S., further constraining companies’ ability to meet their technical needs.

What can be done? Here is what to consider before taking action. 

Reimagine how work gets done. Organizations need to examine the technology landscape to anticipate workforce implications. At IBM, we are bringing together resources with common skill sets into centers close to our clients, enabling us to more effectively collaborate “on the ground.” These centers allow us to build critical mass in industries and disciplines as well as provide staffing flexibility in key locations. Although colocation is a powerful tool, these centers also work in concert, leveraging collaboration tools to share resources around the globe.

We are also looking at how technology—like automation—can free individuals from routine tasks and redeploy them on higher value initiatives. Within IBM, we are working with clients to incorporate cognitive technology and automation that drives productivity across the software development lifecycle.

Craft an employer brand that stands out in the marketplace.  With technical talent at a premium, differentiating your company in the eyes of today’s employees and tomorrow’s candidates requires thinking like a marketer. As millennials and Generation Z fill more of the candidate pool, understanding their unique concerns becomes increasingly important. For some, working on leading technologies will be a strong attractor; for others, an organization’s mission and values will prove paramount.

Consider the candidate experience. Can a job application be completed easily on any device? Can a prospect conveniently access pertinent information from social sites?  Is tracking an application’s progress straightforward? Are hiring managers respectful of a candidate’s time and concerns? Create a recruiting process that favorably impresses applicants as they evaluate your organization as a prospective employer.

Dive deeper into emerging talent pools.  Given continuing shortages, organizations will need to become more creative in finding the newly skilled. Many next-generation technical roles will fall under the category of “new collar” jobs, requiring less than a four-year degree. In areas ranging from cloud computing to cyber-security to digital design and data security, organizations have the opportunity to tap into non-traditional labor pools to access needed capabilities. At IBM, new collar candidates accounted for around 15 percent of hiring in the United States last year.

The P-Tech Experience

Combining finishing high school with two years of college, IBM’s P-Tech program works with over sixty schools across the U.S. to prepare students for careers in technology. The program matches students with industry mentors, arranges work-site visits, and provides internships designed to facilitate successful transitions into technical roles.

In addition, access to ongoing skills development is critical, regardless of where employees are in their careers.  Given the speed of adoption demanded by emerging technologies and rapid changes in software development, technical workers must have opportunities to learn.

No company can address all technical learning needs in-house. Partnering with universities, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other third-parties can augment your workforce’s technical skills while minimizing internal training costs. IBM’s partnership with Udacity on a “nanodegree” program for artificial intelligence is one example of how technical resources can plug into ongoing education.

Take Action, Now

To address the challenges of securing technical talent for your organization, consider pursuing these next steps:

Plot the course of your future workforce.  Using your organization’s business strategy and current operating model, plan your organization’s demand for specific roles and the number of individuals needed to your business needs. Gather information regarding local labor markets to identify the viability of different locational strategies. Model potential operating scenarios across different time horizons and identify areas of business risk associated with skills shortages. Create development and training plans to address skill gaps and surpluses. Involve business unit leaders, IT executives, HR strategists, marketing executives and even real estate planners to develop a successful talent strategy.

Pay attention to the employee and candidate experience. Understand how workers, inside and outside your organization, perceive your firm and how that affects your ability to compete for and retain talent. Collect and analyze data from internal and external sources to pinpoint areas of employee and candidate experience that differentiates your organization, both positively and negatively.  Leverage design thinking to improve your recruiting and work experiences by taking a skilled worker perspective.

Participate in the talent ecosystem. Identify external organizations, such as technology partners, talent providers, and learning platforms that can help close key skill gaps. Offer apprenticeships and other short-term arrangements to tap into talent early. Provide access to ongoing learning to fill emerging needs and provide growth opportunities.

With the explosion of new employment models, intense pressure to reduce dependency on foreign skills and the need to flexibly source from a wide variety of labor pools, leading companies are taking steps to secure their future technical workforce now. What is your organization doing to safeguard your technological edge?


Ismail Amla is Managing Partner, IBM Global Business Services, North America, IBM’s professional services division and the world’s largest consulting organization. In this capacity, Amla sets the strategic direction of the GBS team—the first cognitive consulting practice—as it engages with corporations, government agencies and educational institutions.