Martin McGregor,

Creativity can help ease Australia’s IT skills shortage

Australia is amid a major skills shortage across the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector—and the cybersecurity sector is suffering from the most significant skills shortage.   

Recently, the conversation around the IT and cybersecurity skills shortage reached a peak of hype.  

According to a recent (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, Australia needs an extra 25,000 cybersecurity workers to close the skills gap. Globally, there is a cyber security workforce gap of 3.4 million people.

No doubt COVID-19 exacerbated the issue. There are increasing news reports about the rising cost and difficulty of hiring skilled IT professionals, largely due to Australia’s border closures and tougher competition to recruit the right people.  

There has never been more demand for IT professionals.  

It’s promising to see so many collaborative efforts underway to tackle the issue. Startups, businesses, industry and education bodies and governments are all rallying together to provide upskilling initiatives and career pathways to help close the skills gap.  

It’s a step in the right direction, particularly as the cybersecurity sector continues to grow and the risks of a distributed workforce become even more pronounced.  

The question I have is where technology fits into the equation of helping to solve the skills shortage.  

I caught up recently with Microsoft Partner CTO James Buzzard to brainstorm how organisations might leverage technology to help their existing IT resources overcome the skills gap.  

As there is already so much discussion on the skills shortage, we focused on what organisations can do practically to get the most from their existing talent.  

We considered how automation and cloud-based technologies can facilitate IT teams by giving them the space to flex their creative muscles, not only to fend off data breaches but to drive strategic innovation.  

Organisations, and their customers, need IT to function at its full potential now more than ever. Making better use of their existing IT talent is critical in achieving this.  

Devicie and Microsoft are 100 per cent aligned when it comes to making use of existing IT talent—and it’s a key reason the Devicie platform works so well with Microsoft Intune

Below are four strategies James and I devised to help organisations make better use of their existing IT talent at a time when security and innovation are needed most. 

1. Make room for creative problem solving 

Every day there is a report on cybersecurity, whether it’s a breach or a breach waiting to happen, due to inadequate cyber risk management.  

And yet it’s not uncommon to see many organisations try to solve new security problems with antiquated technology and manual processes. 

The reality is the technology challenges of today are too complex to solve without creative thinking.  

Black hats are creative in the way they target an organisation for an attack. We need white hats to think creatively about how they can protect organisations.

James Buzzard, Microsoft Partner CTO

The real opportunity is to leverage modern, cloud-native technology to automate the work that humans should not be doing. This would allow IT professionals to refocus on work that cannot be automated – most often, creative problem-solving that requires lateral thinking.  

But to be able to achieve this, an organisation requires buy-in from the top. This is important and requires a conversation that is less to do with investing in the individual and more to do with investing in the ability to solve problems at scale using automation.  

IT people are creative thinkers at heart who love to solve problems. If you give them the space to solve problems, they will start coming up with amazing, creative solutions.  

2. Don’t bore your best people with monotonous work 

Good people leave boring jobs for opportunities that afford them the satisfaction of getting to make a difference in the world.

James Buzzard, Microsoft Partner CTO

Many people are drawn to a career in IT or cybersecurity because they want a challenge. Working on the impactful side of technology can also provide a sense of purpose. 

Without this, skilled IT professionals might be inclined to leave for a more attractive role. Therefore, it’s important IT talent remain engaged in their roles and not feel weighed down. 

There are some jobs out there that simply shouldn’t exist anymore, particularly in a skills shortage, and that’s where automation makes sense. 

Application management is the perfect example of this. It’s the equivalent of factory work. 

Highly skilled resources shouldn’t be spending most of their working hours doing this incredibly repetitious and tedious job when instead they could focus on meaningful work that keeps them motivated. 

Suppose an organisation is willing to take a step back to evaluate what tasks they can automate. In that case, they will see how they can liberate their IT team to focus on interesting, value-generating projects that give them more reason to stay. 

3. Outsource the right things 

Outsourcing is a great solution to overcoming the skills shortage, depending on what is being outsourced.

If you concentrate on outsourcing things that don’t differentiate you as an organisation, then you can retain talent for the stuff that gives you a competitive edge.

James Buzzard, Microsoft Partner CTO

Tech companies, such as MSPs, can offer a wealth of support when it comes to resourcing IT skills gaps for certain projects. 

But, organisations need to be strategic about the things they choose to outsource, and the companies they choose to outsource to. Ideally, these outsourcers are already using automation at scale and can significantly reduce unnecessary overhead for an organisation. 

Outsourcing the things that give an organisation a point of difference defies all logic; the things that give your organisation a competitive edge are the last things you want to lose oversight over. On the other hand, it makes no sense for an in-house IT team to run their own SOE project. 

In fact, managing your own SOE is just time and money wasted. This is the last thing you need in a skills shortage. 

Compliance is another area where outsourcing makes sense. A mature external agency can facilitate internal resources and bring them up to speed on new regulations. These organisations will also maintain a far better view of compliance changes rather than needing to maintain in-house specialists. 

By outsourcing the right things, organisations can direct their in-house talent to functions that improve their products and services, and to the things that make them unique. 

4. Enable your workforce to work productively from anywhere 

The pandemic demonstrated that location is no longer a barrier for employees to work effectively.  

A solution to retaining – and attracting – the right talent is to open recruitment to skilled workers from around the globe and ensure they are set up for success.  

This means providing a modern workplace where they can work safely and productively – even if that workplace is their own home.  

Device choice or location cannot, and should not, be a barrier in a hyper-distributed workforce.  

Recruitment agencies are now observing a significant shift in that jobseekers are preferencing work flexibility almost above all else. 

Without flexibility, organisations will lose good staff only to have to replace them with a higher salary plus the disadvantage of needing to upskill and train them from scratch.  

There’s a long road ahead to bridging the IT skills shortage, and this is just one article of how organisations can make a difference. 

Martin McGregor

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