The Coming IT Workforce Shortfall

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Due to approaching baby boomer retirements, the information technology workforce in places like the United States and Europe is expected to shrink dramatically—in fact, IT jobs could outnumber qualified professionals as early as the end of the decade. This might not come as a shock to those who have been reading Bureau of Labor Statistics predictions and other industry forecasts. However, some observers believe this trend will affect countries all over the world, and that it’s already starting to play out in some very unexpected places.


“As workforce growth rates slow in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Australia, skill shortages are going to begin to mount,” said Brian Kramer, program director for IBM Learning Solutions. “These skill shortages are likely to be particularly acute in the IT industry, because developed, post-industrial nations do not graduate many IT engineers. It’s amazing how that has shifted.


“All nations are experiencing a fluctuation in skilled people,” he added. “That’s where the multi-generational aspect is so important. The implications of the multi-generational economy are very significant and felt in countries around the world. For example, it’s a little-known fact that India is now quickly running out of skilled people to meet the demand that they have. India is having to outsource their work to other countries in order to get things done. In Singapore, it’s a significant challenge as their economy shifts from manufacturing to service. Most of their people in manufacturing are in their mid- to late-40s. How can they take this group of people—who typically don’t speak English, either—and move them into a service economy so Singapore can shift and remain competitive on an international basis? This particular scenario is almost identical in states and countries around the globe. It’s just that specifics of the scenario may vary.”


In his role at IBM, Kramer specializes in workforce development projects for countries around the world, primarily at the state level in the United States and at province level internationally. He and his team work with local government agencies, employers and educators to cultivate training solutions, whether that’s in consulting, development or delivery capacity. For example, IBM Learning Solutions currently is conducting two major IT certification training programs in Latin America and Africa involving students numbering in the tens of thousands.


“Workforce development is not new,” Kramer said. “However, typically, nations, states and provinces’ workforce development efforts are widely dispersed, based on who was more aggressive at getting funds to support their ideas or where the needs might have been greatest. Each state and province has unique needs. They have unique characteristics in terms of natural resources and what types of businesses they can support. Local implementation considerations are essential in this work. What we do is help them identify the strategic industries that states or provinces wish to attract. Then, between, we look at how we can effectively align the training requirements so that everybody understands what we’re all trying to achieve. Our process makes it clear that needs to be done, and we help them get it done.”


The projected workforce brain drain has become a central concern in these training programs in recent years. According to Kramer, the economic focus of political and business elites has shifted from national facilities and services (like roads, health care, and international airports and sea ports) to people. “In the past, businesses were most concerned about infrastructure in order to support their (operations),” he said. “Those are still important. However, they’re much more common than they used to be. Because the nature of work has evolved, the skill level of the citizen has now become a key natural resource, so to speak—the raw material that will enable businesses to thrive and survive. These skill levels are impacted by many things: age, background and how people are used to working.”


Kramer suggested that one of the main solutions to the problem presented by the multi-generational economy was keeping the baby boomer generation working as long as possible. “As baby boomers retire, how can they be productive? They don’t necessarily want to leave the workforce and do nothing. By enabling them to re-skill and participate in this, it gives them the opportunity to work the hours they want to, still earn an income and provide value on a global basis.”

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