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Can Alternative Education Shrink The IT Skills Gap

One reason it takes so long to fill open IT positions is that there just aren't that many candidates for the jobs. IT jobs are often very specialized and even candidates with solid credentials—degrees from good schools or a few years of work experience—may not tick all the required skills boxes. New educational paradigms may provide a way to find qualified candidates who've built their skills through less traditional paths. Here's a look at some new ways IT job candidates are developing skills to add to their resumes.

Boot Camps

Military boot camps last up to 13 weeks and provide intensive, focused training during that period. New recruits learn necessary individual skills as well as the teamwork needed to complete objectives.

Coding boot camps are similar, except without the shaved heads and yelling drill sergeants. Instead, coding boot camps offer intensive training in programming languages and development methodologies. Students work on projects both individually and in teams. By the time they complete a final project, boot camp graduates are capable of completing entry-level programming assignments.


MOOCs—massive open online courses—put university lectures onto an online platform. These courses may have thousands of students enrolled, and rely heavily on peer review to grade assignments. The quality of these programs varies greatly, with some courses taught by faculty from top universities.

Students often have the option to audit a MOOC without completing any project work. If a candidate lists a MOOC on their resume, find out if they received a certificate attesting to their completion of the coursework.


Nanodegrees are an extension of MOOCs. Instead of receiving certificates of completion for individual courses, students follow a specific course of study structured much like a degree program with prerequisites, required courses, and electives. There is also a required project assignment. At the end of the coursework, a nanodegree is awarded.

These programs are highly tailored to skills needed in industry. As one example, the MOOC firm Udemy has partnered with AT&T and other technology businesses to design nanodegrees for front end development, back end development, and other technical roles.

How Capable are Graduates of Alternative Education Programs?

Just as university degree holders differ in their capabilities, the graduates of these programs also will differ in their capabilities. They still need to be screened through technical interviews for their ability. But technical ability isn't the only factor to be considered. Graduates of these alternative programs have demonstrated their motivation to develop themselves for careers in technology. That can go a long way in getting the job done.

Are You Contributing to the IT Skills Gap

With the demand for IT talent rising faster than the supply, most IT managers are aware that there’s a serious disconnect between the skills your company needs for your tech department, and the availability of those required skills among available talent. In fact, according to a recent survey from staffing firm Manpower, 36 percent of employers report struggling to fill their available IT positions. The reasons given are that candidates lack:

  • Technical competencies / hard skills (35 percent)
  • Experience (25 percent)
  • Soft skills (19 percent)

But is there truly a shortage of talent? While it can’t be disputed that the “talent pool” is narrowing as unemployment among IT professionals continues to drop toward an all-time low, the real problem may be a skills mismatch — and as an employer, your recruiting, hiring, and retention strategies may be contributing to the issue.

Here are three common ways employers are making the IT skills gap problem worse, and what you can do to bridge the gap and find the talent you need.

Looking for the perfect match

Just as IT candidates have their dream companies, IT managers have their dream employees — the perfect talent to slot into their open positions. They know exactly the skills, experience, and personal qualities they’re looking for, and they won’t settle for anything less.

The problem is that “perfect” candidates are rare, or even impossible to find. And in your pursuit of perfection, you’re very likely to overlook excellent candidates with skills and qualities that can be molded to fit the position.

When it comes to recruitment and hiring, consider broadening your search parameters. Most often, the major stumbling block for perfect candidates is level of experience. With this factor the issue becomes a talent shortage because other companies are looking for the same qualifications, and the end result is often a bidding war where only one organization wins. Instead, consider hiring younger and less experienced candidates who can be trained to fulfill your expectations.

Not investing in training and education

In the rush to hire new talent, many employers make the mistake of overlooking their existing talent. Employer-provided training is a valuable and viable way to bridge the talent gap — but the majority of employers simply aren’t investing in training programs or opportunities for their employees.

The most recent data available, from Accenture, found that in 2011 only 21 percent of employees reported receiving training from their employers in the past five years. This leaves an astonishing figure of nearly 80 percent who received no training for at least five years, and in many cases longer.

Today it’s common for employers to expect IT staff to pick up new training on their own, or to simply hire new employees with the training and experience they’re looking for. But it can be far more cost- and time-effective to provide training and re-training opportunities for your existing employees in order to fill the worst of the skills gap in your organization. This includes both full-time staff and temporary or temp-to-hire candidates, who may even be eligible for additional training through staffing agencies.

Failing to offer competitive salaries

A high demand for talent, coupled with a low supply, has given IT candidates more bargaining power than ever at the hiring table. Employers who are unwilling to offer salary and benefits packages that are comparable with the latest market rates will lose out to the competition. In fact, the Manpower survey found that while 20 percent of employers said candidates weren’t willing to accept positions at the offered salary, only 5 percent were planning to increase their offers in response to hiring difficulties.

Simply stated, IT managers must realize that higher salaries are here to stay. In order to compete and recruit the best talent, you need to offer what other companies are willing to pay.

Published in Hiring Managers