Closing the IT Skills Gap - Latest SHARE Survey Finds Employers Wanting for Both Business and Specialized Skills in IT Graduates

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As the economy shifts to expansion mode, and businesses start hiring again, a familiar challenge is rearing its head. Companies are scrambling to find the talent needed to effectively run, maintain, and expand their technology platforms. This is not a new problem by any means, but this time around, it is taking on a greater urgency, as just about every organization relies on information technology to be competitive and responsive to growth opportunities. For most organizations these days, IT isn't a luxury - it's a necessity in the race to better understand and engage customers and markets.  

Many corporate and government employers are concerned about the caliber and capabilities of today's IT college graduates. This not only relates to new types of skill sets such as business intelligence and analytics but also to longstanding foundational skills such as mainframe administration and programming. In addition, many employers find the technical graduates they recruit are severely lacking in core business skills. A new survey of 376 employers finds a majority depend on the educational sector - universities and colleges - to provide such skills, often in conjunction with their own internal training efforts. However, few of the executives and managers hiring out of colleges are entirely satisfied with the readiness of graduates.

The survey included members of SHARE, an association of corporate users of mainframe and other related technologies, as well as subscribers to Database Trends and Applications. The survey was sponsored by IBM and conducted earlier this year by Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc., and publisher of DBTA.

Overall, plans for hiring of new IT professionals are strong, reflecting a bounce-back from the recent recession. A majority of companies take in up to 100 new IT employees a year, of which roughly a quarter go directly to respondents' departments. In most cases, a minimum of a bachelor's degree is expected.

Demand is greatest for skilled programmers and developers, the survey finds. Fifty-nine percent of companies indicate that they are either currently hiring or planning to soon hire programmers and developers with a range of skills. By contrast, 43% are hiring systems programmers and systems analysts, 50% are hiring database professionals, 36% are hiring analysts and architects, and 27% seek application management talent.

Leading skills sought include proficiency in application server environments, database languages, and Java (see below). COBOL is still sought as a skill by almost four out of 10 companies. About one-third of companies are seeking professionals and managers that can bridge the divides between IT departments and business leaders. Project management, analytics/business intelligence, and enterprise architecture skills are in demand by more than half of the companies surveyed.

The survey finds that one out of four companies are concerned about the technical aptitude of job candidates, but there is even greater concern about lack of business skills. Close to four out of 10 report that their IT hires are not sufficiently prepared, from a technical skills standpoint, to perform jobs within their companies, and half say that, at a minimum, there are notable gaps in skills. Some remedial skills training is always needed; only 11% would rate their IT hires are "well-trained, ready to go." Likewise, about half would rate the business skills of graduates as adequate for their requirements, and only 8% give these graduates' business skill levels high marks.

Employers overwhelmingly agree that colleges and universities need to provide the essential skills required to run IT departments. Seventy-seven percent look to educational institutions to provide programming skills, 82% look for database skills, and 76% look for analysis and architectural skills. Along with appropriate technical skills, eight out of 10 companies seek problem-solving and technical skills.

To make up for these skill gaps among incoming employees, close to half of respondents, 46%, have employed their own corporate training and development efforts. Close to four out of 10 bring in outside consultants or third-party firms to provide skills development. A similar percentage say they have development partnerships with colleges and universities for programs such as internships.

It's notable that there is a large disparity in the expectations of larger organizations versus small-to-medium businesses. Larger firms are more likely to have more robust in-house training departments, and thus, are more willing to take in fresh graduates right out of school. Small-to-medium-size businesses, on the other hand, need people with on-the-job experience who can hit the ground running when they are hired. Only 25% of the smallest companies (100 or fewer employees) say they have hired at least some workers fresh out of school with no working experience, compared to more than double that for the largest enterprises in the survey (10,000 or more employees).

The challenge is that today's IT students need more real-world understanding of the challenges and opportunities technology has to offer. As expressed by one survey respondent, students need to be taught "how to create efficient applications, not just slap something together. They need to know the cost of each instruction and step. They need to know how to use different types of databases. They need to understand the difference between a sequential read and a serial read. They need to understand how their applications impact users and systems."  

Skills Most in Demand

Programming Environments, Methodologies or Tool Skills

Database languages (e.g., SQL, PL/SQL)...56%


Application servers (e.g., WebSphere, WebLogic)...51%

Application lifecycle management...43%


Java Platforms (e.g., Java Enterprise Edition, SE)...41%

Microsoft .NET Framework...40%

z/OS internals (e.g., system error codes, ECB)...40%


Programming and Administration Skills


Storage administration...62%

Disaster recovery...59%


Performance analysis...58%

Network administration...57%

Diagnostics and remediation...57%

Capacity planning...53%



Batch processing...46%

Web administration...42%


Infrastructure Library (ITIL)/IT service management...41%

Transaction management...41%

Business Analysis and Architectural Skills 

Project management skills...56%

Analytics/business intelligence...52%

Enterprise architecture...52%

Business analysis...50%


Systems analysis...46%

Data modeling skills...42%

"Pure" Business Skills

Problem solving...77%

Critical thinking...70%

Writing / communication...61%

Interpersonal communications...59%

Project management...57%

Presentation skills...47%

Cross-functional communications...40%

The Executive Summary of the research is available for public viewing.

SHARE members may click here to download the complete findings report. Site login and password required for access.