Disrupting the Decade
With two decades of the twenty-first century in the bin and a whole new decade of possibilities on the horizon, I have spent some time reflecting on the challenges and opportunities facing Canadian businesses. There is a lot of chatter about advancements in technology, evolving customer expectations, a focus on sustainability, and, of course, massive shift in retail business models. The discussions I have had with business leaders across the country on these topics can shift from admirable optimism to a fatalistic perspective, sometimes within a single breath. There is a common thread that weaves through all of these discussions: workforce skills.
Skilled individuals power the global economy. We have entered an era where the half-life of skills is shrinking disproportionately to the amount of time it takes to master a new, relevant skill to carry our businesses forward. The challenge is not just to maintain the skills we need to succeed today, but rather to find new ways to stay ahead of an impending talent shortage for future skills. Many business leaders are still relying on past methodologies of hiring and training their teams for in-demand skills. This approach is no longer viable as the value of, need for, and availability of workforce skills has evolved past the traditional methods. Hiring and re-training is not enough to stem the flow in the talent crisis.
The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) report “Enterprise guide to closing the skills gap” states: the time it takes to close a skills gap through traditional training has increased by more than 10 times in the past four years, jumping from 3 days to 36 days. This means that you must invest, on average, nearly two months of an employee’s time to keep their skill set relevant. Compounding the issue is the half-life of skills. Once estimated at 10 to 15 years, it is now estimated to be five years – less for technical skills. This means that a skill learned today will be half as valuable in five years or less. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Let’s revisit those challenges and opportunities the business community is talking about today: technology advancements, customer expectations, sustainability, and destabilized traditional business models. Some may assume that technology advancements are both the cause and the cure for these business challenges and opportunities; I would argue that a root cause is the skills gap we are facing and the solution can be found in strategic investment in the skills required for today and the coming decade.
With my background in IT, I am always excited to talk about how we can leverage technology to solve complex business problems, because behind that technology is a skilled labour force who will innovate, deliver value, and grow your business. Finding these talented individuals can be a challenge and it is becoming apparent that the investment required to train existing teams is not always feasible.
Business executives need to balance delivering results today, preparing for tomorrow, and transforming for the next wave of change. Sometimes that means hiring for new roles to meet the coming demand. Other times, it means partnering with organizations who have a bench of experts waiting to be deployed. Yet another approach is to out-task or even completely outsource an area of your business. No matter what approach is right for your business, retaining talent in current and future skills is going to have a direct impact on your bottom line.
Let’s briefly consider some areas where skills gaps are being identified as barriers to executing on strategy. The first, most frequently cited, is often related to data. We’ve all heard that data is king. I have also heard data referred to as the new natural resource. For data to drive value and business results proper structure, governance, and interpretation is required – otherwise, the power of that data remains locked and untapped. To unlock the dormant power of your data, you need to draw on the skills of data scientists, engineers, and other technical resources.
Next, we should touch on skills related to your business applications. These applications are often the engine that connects you with your customers. Think about the banking industry: for decades mainframe business applications were used by banking staff that connect them to customer and market information. Online banking revolutionized how customers managed their finances. Now mobile banking applications are used by individuals world-wide. To be successful, institutions must maintain and transform legacy applications while building cloud-based applications to meet their market demands.
Finally, consider the skills required for managing your technology infrastructure. This is where your data and applications reside, and infrastructure technology is constantly evolving to meet the changing industry needs and regulations. Not only are new technology skills in high demand, if you rely on legacy technical infrastructure you may find that as your workforce approaches retirement age there is a lack of talented individuals who can take on this work. Many businesses face the risk of not being able to support their business-critical legacy infrastructure as an entire generation of IT professionals considers retirement.
What can be done today? Closing the skills gap requires organizations to look beyond hiring and traditional training of individuals. To remain competitive businesses must both adopt a culture of continuous learning and expand their partner ecosystem. This ecosystem will help organizations identify opportunities to augment their staff through contracted professional services partnerships, or outsource components of their business so that they can focus on driving greater value through their core competencies.
I have experienced great success in closing the skills gap within my own organization and with customers’ businesses. Hopefully, you too will be inspired to take a closer look at your own business to meet this challenge of the decade head on. If you are not sure where to start or what the best approach is for the skills gap disruption impacting your business, please call the team at ISM Canada. We have both the expertise and experience to position you and your business for success.
Hasnain Versi was born and raised in the coastal city of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. He moved to Canada in 1996 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics at York University, and subsequently earned his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. Hasnain joined ISM Canada – an IBM company as President and CEO in July 2019 after nearly two decades with IBM. He splits his time between the ISM Canada head office in Regina, traveling to see customers across Canada, and meeting with his IBM counterparts. When he is not working, Hasnain likes to play squash and enjoys volunteering at his local community centre in numerous capacities including sporting events, community events, and fundraising activities.
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