There is a growing gap between the skills that employers need and the skills that job candidates offer, especially in IT. This gap is the result not only of rapidly changing technologies but also of the way we train technology professionals, and who trains them. Techies prefer instructor-led training, and all the evidence says it is more effective than other training modalities. It's time to get back to the most effective and cost-effective training options for technical professionals: instructor-led training and professionally facilitated self-paced training.
A skills gap is the difference between skills that employers want or need, and the skills the workforce offers. Some folks -- usually not those trying to hire people -- make light of the idea that there is a skills gap. A favorite example: "Skills gaps are imaginary. Just because a hiring manager says that they want a person who can fly and sing Italian opera while they're writing code does not mean that such people exist, and certainly not for the designated salary." It's amusing, but spectacularly far off base.
The vast majority of serious thinkers -- especially those trying to hire folks -- know all too well that there is a serious skills gap. According to the 2019 Skills Gap Survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 52 percent of HR professionals said that the skills gap has worsened or greatly worsened in the past two years, and 83 percent said they have noticed a decrease in the quality of job applicants, with one-third citing a lack of needed technical skills. IDC believes that by the end of 2020, 90% of all organizations will have adjusted project plans, delayed product/service releases, incurred costs or lost revenue because of a lack of IT skills that is traceable to the skills gap, with losses worldwide totaling $390 billion annually. Jeremy Walsh, VP of Enterprise Learning Solutions at Wiley Education Services, says, "The skills gap is growing, becoming a larger and more serious drag on business efficiency." According to Deloitte, the skills gap could have a negative $2.5 trillion impact on the U.S. economy over the next decade.
I could easily go on, but the point is clear: we're having trouble keeping our workforce properly trained. And nowhere is the problem worse than in information technology. In one survey, 40 percent of hiring managers saw software/application development as their biggest skills gap. Monster.com reports that the most difficult positions to fill are tech jobs, and a Wiley survey published in 2019 reported that a shocking 64% of surveyed employers, 23% more than the previous year, said that they were simply unable to hire the qualified techies they need.
So, yes, there is a skills gap, especially in the IT community, and it is widening.
Another big change has been both heralded and ignored: the way we teach and learn.
The size of the US training market grew from $51 billion in 2004 to roughly $160 billion in 2019. While the training industry more than tripled in size, and while the e-learning industry grew to nine times the size it was in 2000, the percentage of training time spent in classrooms (real or virtual) plummeted. Over 90% of training in 1999 was instructor-led training (ILT), but by 2008, the number had dipped to 64%, and in 2019, a mere 40% of training hours were delivered by a stand-and-deliver instructor in a classroom setting. And, according to at least one report, during a recent two year period in which ILT attendance dipped by 10%, the skills gap (as reported by IT decision-makers) increased 40%.
We have also moved from using professional trainers and professional training to using training products that are, in large part, created by amateurs. We have written about this in the past: companies like Udemy offer what seem to be incredible training bargains for e-learning solutions, but let literally anybody sell courses that may or may not be complete or even correct.
Given the ever-more complex world of technology, the devastating and dramatic reduction in the use of proven-effective training methods, and the widespread use of cheap training from amateurs, is it really surprising that the skills gap is growing?
We need to do a better job training IT professionals. To make training for IT professionals more effective, it seems wise to take three steps:
So, first, what works? The jury came back on this one a long time ago: for complex technical training, we need instructors. We need human interaction. We need guidance. We know without a doubt that training without guidance or with minimal guidance is far less effective than training that includes a higher level of guidance. Such training not only fails to take advantage of well understood cognitive structures but ignores numerous empirical studies that consistently indicate that minimally guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. We know that instructor-led training is most effective, and that self-paced training must include an active facilitator to answer questions, provide guidance, and nudge the learner to completion. We also know, given the significant salaries of technology professionals, that the variable cost of training -- the price of tuition -- is insignificant. Employers are far better off to spend X on effective training than even 1/10(X) on ineffective training.
But what do IT professionals prefer? Overwhelmingly, IT professionals prefer instructor-led training: ILT is rated as the most favored training method by 68% of technology professionals. 93% consider ILT to be as effective or more effective than other methods of training. And their bosses agree: 86% of executives say ILT is effective.
The intersection of items 1 and 2 is: instructor-led training. ILT is most effective, most cost effective, most efficient, and most desired by IT pros.
Yes, really. As we've stated, and as supported in the references and in previous papers, instructor-led training is measurably far more effective than non-human-based training modalities for complex technical material. The technical professionals agree, and it is significant that the more experienced the professional, the more they agree. Upon closer examination, it makes perfect sense. Those who have been around the block understand:
Also, ILT offers obvious advantages over self-moderated training:
Unfortunately, in certain circumstances, the instructor-led option is not practical. If a technology professional requires that training take place on nights or weekends, or in binge-watch mode, the instructor-led option, whether face-to-face or remote-live, may not work.
In such cases, however, typical e-learning or webinar options do not provide a solution that is even close to satisfactory. The cost of apparent convenience is too high: the student loses not only the controlled learning environment, the accountability, and the competition, but the critical interactive Q&A with instructors and peers. To be effective, complex technical training must be facilitated; the students must receive the necessary guidance and retain ability to ask specific questions of an expert. Therefore, HOTT, alone in the industry, offers self-paced training that includes an actual human instructor who is assigned to monitor progress and answer any questions throughout the training process. Only by providing such a facilitator can self-paced training provide almost all the advantages of more conventional instructor-led training.
In the fiercely competitive business environment in which most of us live and work, it is imperative that we close the skills gap that is all too real. In the world of information technology, the obvious way to do it is to provide effective, efficient, cost-efficient training. And the way to provide such training is to eschew ineffective and seemingly inexpensive training in favor of proven methods. That means instructor-led training from experienced, trusted sources, and self-paced training that includes an active facilitator to answer questions and provide guidance.
Chief Education Officer
Hands On Technology Transfer, Inc.
Colin Grant, the CEdO (Chief Education Officer) at Hands On Technology Transfer, Inc., has worked in the field of technical education for almost 40 years as a technical trainer, programmer, course developer, media developer, manager, executive, entrepreneur, editor, and author. He welcomes your comments, criticism and input. Please contact him at Colin.Grant@traininghott.com.
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