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What Learning Hat Am I Wearing Today?

Meaningful employment in today’s economy requires employees to have numerous competencies in a number of fields. In order to achieve this, employees must be willing to learn the skills they need as they are needed.

What courses will be needed to keep pace with rapid changes in business needs?

Constant change in communications technology and social networking is evolving the employment criteria of an expanding market and shrinking the supply of qualified Information Technology workers. The next generation of IT and Information Services graduates need to be able to wear multiple hats (IT, finance, HR, procurement) to remain in the workforce. What has brought about this change? Are institutions of higher learning responding to the urgent need for an increased supply of qualified graduates and continuous updating of knowledge to keep pace?

According to many CIOs, most educators and higher education institutions are not geared to adapt quickly to change, and those that are trying are moving too slow. “We have added training that burdens cost per new hire in providing some of the material that should have been part of the graduation requirements or in continuing education courses,” one prominent Fortune 100 CIO told me.

As companies shift their IT computing and processing to “the Cloud”—which outsources to lower the cost of ownership while keeping pace with the increasing speed of CPU power and virtual storage technologies—IT management now means more involvement in business strategies, finance, and people issues. This will be a difficult gap to bridge for many long-time IT Managers who have spent most of their careers in the “tech weeds”: keeping pace with current hardware upgrades which will process faster, getting software upgrades, reducing maintenance costs, and working to accept all smartphone devices securely into their network.

Instead, these managers will be spending more time on process cost reductions, and working with HR to analyze data applicable to people and business performance. IT managers will be more involved in procurement as outsourcing of non-core business processes increases, and as staffing of outsiders becomes more necessary to meet company goals due to the increasing shortfall of skilled talent.

A CIO from a large company with a degree in IT told me that his company would pay for him to go to night school and get his MBA. While it was certainly a generous offer, would an MBA fulfill the multi-hat approach to workplace skills that he needs right now? Continuous learning should not be a random act, but the result of a thoughtful planning process. Not everyone needs or wants to spend the time and money to obtain an MBA or PhD, even when data shows the degree advances your resume and likelihood of increased income and opportunity. Continuing education in the workplace, as an important part of career pathing, should focus on attaining what you need to manage organizational change and to enhance the skills you will need to be of more value to your company’s bottom line. That may mean extension courses in diversity, labor relations, measuring people performance, data analysis, managing virtual teams, et cetera; not necessarily another degree.

Many companies offer financial support to obtain continuous education with accredited courses of study (online, self-paced, virtual classroom, and regular classroom training) which can be directly tied to the evolving IT role. Employers are not usually receptive to funding extended formal education that is unrelated to the area that will make a positive impact on company growth, or that an employee may pursue simply to add to their resume for recruiters.

Escalating baby boomer generation retirements, increasing shortages of the skills needed in the knowledge marketplace, and the ever-widening talent gap will increase pressure to invest in talent upskilling and retention. These factors, in addition to IT movement to “the Cloud”, will require IT and IS departments to change their organizational structure. They will likely reduce staff that are no longer needed or can be retrained for other roles—roles that can more effectively form blended teams from production, logistics, marketing, sales, finance, HR, and procurement.

As the landscape evolves, IT will be called upon to use workflow training, project management skills, and ideas for analyzing data. The goal is to find savings and opportunity from all the data being gathered and stored. That requires working with HR, recruiting, and other line departments, and straying from the norm to find ways to use data analytics for human performance metrics and market data that can be used against competitors.

IT will also need to learn what a blended workforce is and how to utilize its advantages. Blending part-time, full-time, contract, and contingent workers into teams for various projects will become more prevalent. Then, once the goals are achieved, employees will be reassembled into a different set of teams with different goals.

Before you invest time and money in continuing education, make sure the accredited courses are relevant and will improve your participation as described above. You will be required to wear many hats that may not be comfortable. Get used to it!

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