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Getting Ahead of the Digital Skills Shortage

Industry luminaries David Cannon & Matthew Burrows discuss strategies for “Getting Ahead of the Digital Skills Shortage”  


All right, let’s get started with a fun friendly presentation tip of when you go and are an MC of a webinar or hosting an online meeting, turn your outlook notifications off.

All right. Welcome to our thought leadership webinar. We do have people jumping in here as we go. My name is John Kleist, I am a SFIA framework evangelist in the United States, here to spread the great word that is SFIA and digital skills management / digital skills assessments, and all of the great things we’re going to talk about here with some amazing thought leadership luminaries in the industry. We have with us David Cannon and Matthew Burrows. David, I’m going to let you introduce yourself, but tell a quick story as we both had a big background in service management. David is one of the original ITIL authors, and in many years in the industry we had never met in person, and that’s kind of what prompted us to start collaborating here. You have 130 mutual connections with David. Matthew and David have been collaborating extensively for 20 plus years and bringing multiple different state-of-the-art frameworks and such to market, and I’ll let them introduce themselves. With that I’m going to pass it over to David.

Thanks John. Good to be here with you and we will get together one day soon, travel allowing. I’ve been based in Dallas in Texas, in the USA. I’ve been here for 21 years and, as you say, my background has been in service management. I certainly have been an ITIL user and author over the years; contributed to the service operation book in version 3, the rewrite of the service strategy book in version 3, and then in ITIL4 the digital and IT strategy book as well as the acquiring and managing cloud services book. So right now I work in a very small little company focusing specifically on how to help organizations to move into this modern world of digital technology, or that has been transformed by digital technology. So, that’s me!

Thanks David, and I will pass next to Matthew. We’ve titled him the SFIA doctor – I can tell you that funny story of how he’s the doctor of SFIA. With that I’ll tee you up Matthew.

No problem, yes, thank you very much John. It’s good to be on the call with you and David. David and I have been in the same room at the same time many times, and sometimes that being a hotel bar at a conference, putting the world to rights, and I do remember sitting next to you when you were doing that rewrite of the service strategy book – that was somewhere in the US I think, Kentucky if I remember rightly. So yes, my background is service management and project, program and portfolio management, but for the last 20 plus years I’ve been focusing more on the people and skills side of things. That is often with a framework that we have called the Skills Framework for the Information Age, and so I’m a SFIA Accredited Consultant and Assessor, and I spend a lot of my time helping organizations and governments around the world to get better at realizing that actually it’s still all about people and their skills and not just the technology. And that’s a really important element, and one that often we’re not very good at in IT.

It’s so true, especially the way a lot of software vendors push it – we’re gonna solve your people problem with our technology, and I think that’s definitely something I’ve seen in 20 plus years of the industry. With that, we have a couple of questions to guide this conversation that we’ve been promoting to really help folks to get ahead of the digital skills shortage /digital skills crisis. There’s many a hashtags that i follow to try to stay up to date on the latest trends here, and one of the things I think would be a great way to get this conversation rolling with the the many years of experience you guys have, is “how do you see digital technology changing the role of IT staff and the people who are responsible for managing and leading that staff?”


OK, I’m not sure we know the full story yet. The interesting thing about this digital world is that it’s evolving and it’s evolving really really quickly, even as we speak. So just as we think we understand what it’s doing, it kind of takes off in a new direction. Of course that was compounded even more by the whole pandemic, and our need to respond very quickly to how we use technology to enable people to work from wherever they are, not only that but how do we change our business model? So for me the world of digital technology is really asking, I was going to say forcing, um not quite that strong, but it certainly demands that we as technology leaders get more of an understanding of the business that we’re in and the business model that we’re using. Digital technology is not just about doing the things that we do today using a new tool. What I’ve learned is that digital technology makes us do new things, and it allows us to do things in ways that we’ve never done that before, and as a result what’s happened is that digital technology has not only changed the workplace it has in fact changed society. Every level of society has been changed by digital technology. Of course, depending on where you live that would be different, but for example even things like dating is very very different now than what it was 20 years ago. Just the rules have changed. So how does that affect me as an IT person? Well, one is that my organization is going to work very differently. It’s going to be faster. I’m going to have to deliver smaller chunks of work in quicker time, and a lot of people have said ‘isn’t that just because agile frameworks have emerged that are better than ITIL?’ Let me be clear, I am not an ITIL bigot. I contributed to that, but that’s kind of taken us so far. What’s happening here, we need to go further!

The reason why we’re having to work in this way is simply because things are changing really quickly, and because they’re changing really quickly you have to be able to respond quickly, and you cannot do that if you’re planning out one to two years in advance. So, certainly you can have a vision that goes that far, but we’re having to deliver very very quickly and as a result of that, working methods have changed. The tools that we use have changed. The way in which we communicate with one another and what we say to one another, has changed. I’ll give an example, this happened right at the beginning of the pandemic and I was online having a discussion with some of our colleagues in the higher education space, and I said to them ‘what discussions are you having?’ ‘what is happening with you right now as the pandemic hits you?’ My son happened to be at school, so I could see that side of it. What is happening from your side? What are the professors doing, and so on? They said it is interesting that you ask that because the kind of discussions that we’re getting into are very different from the discussions that we had before. Discussions we had before is ‘we need these laptops, we need the software, we need these licensing, and we need you to manage this’. The discussions we’re having now is, I’m being asked to provide lectures over zoom, how do I do that? Not how do I use zoom, but how do I make my lectures interesting, relevant? How do I share material with students? How do I make sure that they’re engaged, and IT people were sitting in those discussions. So we’re now in the front line of the business of the organization that we’re in, and I think that has changed significantly. It’s changed the discussions that we’re having and the kind of skills that we need. I will say after the pandemic a significant number of those people went back to the back office jobs because they felt uncomfortable being able to have those kind of discussions. They felt they didn’t have the knowledge or the expertise to be able to have those business discussions, and felt far more comfortable going back and managing the technology itself, which is fine. There will always be a career in that, but there is an increasing demand on us to move into the front lines of the business. Sorry, that’s a very long answer, but there you go.

You’re absolutely right David. That shift from IT being a back office function to being front of house, not just supporting the internal workers in doing their previous processes in a slicker way. It actually changes the process so that you do a different process, and now the technology is so critical, and critically important that there’s no manual work around when the technology is unavailable, and it’s not just supporting those internal users, it’s supporting your external customers directly. And that’s happened in almost every industry, and what that’s done in terms of changing the role of its staff is that it’s made their skills and competencies and their experience even more critically important, plus the volume has increased because now everything’s done using technology in one way or another, It’s very difficult to find an industry that hasn’t made that shift. You mentioned dating, but you could say the same thing about banking. How many people actually go into the branch? They’re doing it with technology of various different types. Music – I’m sure we all remember going into record shops and buying vinyl, and you can still do that, but a lot of the time it’s now a technology function. So, of course, because of that criticality people are having to do more things with the technology, so actually what’s happened is they’re having to learn many more skills. And that’s another thing that’s changed, because people working in IT used to be able to say ‘I work in IT’, and of course you can still say that, but people immediately ask you to fix their laptop if you say I work in IT, and IT is not just about that, it’s got so many different branches and specialisms now that that’s one of the the key changes.

I’m beginning to see in some cases, that in some organizations the kind of skills that people need to develop to be effective in their organization are so focused on that industry vertical that they’re going to find it difficult to move out of that vertical in five years time and go and work in in some other vertical. So you mentioned banking for example, it’s becoming so very specific to banking services that a person in that kind of role in the bank is going to find it difficult to go and work in for example a factory. This plug-and-play aspect of IT skills that we’ve had in the past is kind of being reduced, and there are more and more roles that require a thorough understanding of the way in which the business part of their organization develops. I see a bunch of comments coming in which are really interesting.

I’ve been speaking to a number of people over the past several weeks, and the question I’ve asked all of them was, and these are all CIOs, and the question I asked all of them is ‘where is the IT department going to be in five to ten years time?’, because there’s this school of thought out there which says there will be no IT department in 10 years time – it’ll all be embedded in the business. And so I wanted to test that, and I went out to that, and actually I think Lani has a comment here which is really relevant to the answers, that are really consistent with the answers that I was getting from those CIOs, which is more and more of the actual technology is being embedded in the business in some sort of product or service, but at the same time there are certain things that only a technology specialist will be able to do. Some of those are back office technology functions, things like networking, setting up the wi-fi and so on. Other things though have to do with things like cyber security, risk management, compliance – which require specialization that is independent of the actual use case of the technology. So I definitely think that a lot of the traditional skills that we’ve learnt in IT will continue to play a role in what we do, but it will look very different.

That makes a lot of sense and I guess that’s also behind what what I’m seeing in a lot of the data that’s coming out. If I put this up on the screen, this is just to illustrate some of the stats that are out there, and really they’re telling a very consistent story, and it is actually just backing up this need for greater skills and more people with these skills, and all of these specialisms growing. The end result with that is actually IT managers have to change the way that they do things because they’ve got to deal with skill shortages. They’ve not only got to deal with the criticality issue that if the technology doesn’t work actually your end products and services don’t work, your end customers are unhappy! But they’ve also got to deal with the fact that actually IT professionals are a little bit short on the ground – there’s not enough of them to go round, and that means they’ve got a lot of choice. So actually, if they don’t like working for you and for your organization, or they’re not getting the development opportunities they need, they’re not getting the conditions they want, they’ll go somewhere else where they feel greater need. So, in first part of your question, John, it talked about the IT staff changing, but you also asked about the technology managers and the managers need to understand why people leave, in order to prevent them from leaving. This is where we talk about the big quit or the great resignation, whether you think that’s hyped or not, people I talk to are facing skill shortages and therefore the managers are thinking ‘well hold on a minute, it’s not just about the technology, we need to do something different to hold on to people’. I’m always explaining to them, understand why they leave. If you understand why people leave, you can then address those challenges and do something about them. And what’s interesting is a lot of people think it’s about pay, and particularly in government organizations i’m talking about, where perhaps they can’t pay as much as commercial private organizations. They immediately think, oh well, we won’t be able to compete because it’s all about money. Well, money does come into it, the rewards, but as you can see from this graph it’s actually career development opportunities. So actually a lot of IT professionals want to be able to maintain their current focus specialisms and their skills, and they want to learn new ones, and if they don’t see that development opportunity often they’re the ones that will leave.

One of my tasks here is to make sure we keep things within time constraints. We’re closing in on the time frame we had for the first question, but it reminds me of my first endeavors into higher education was at a Pittsburgh trade school called Computer Tech. I can assure you that at no point in that program when i was learning core technology skills, was the people side of the business. There was nothing in my two and a half years of training there that included professional speaking or anything that would be the the soft skills that are absolutely required. IT people, like you said, just could be the non-people people of the world, and over the next 10 years I don’t think that – you can’t. It’s not going to work, the back office jobs are going away.

You’re right! That sort of starts teeing up where we were going next with the conversation because you’re absolutely right. Skills – the ones that are in demand and needed have changed.

Absolutely, so teeing it up, what what do you guys see as the most important skills to be focusing on over the next five years? There’s thousands of certifications and training programs, and everybody’s out there selling oh you need to do this, that, devops, agile, scrum, I mean there’s a bazillion acronyms in this industry. What do you two see as the future of at least this short-term five-year strategy?

So first of all I think that there is a huge amount that we carry forward with us, and I think we need to recognize that. Those of us with our grey beards and lack of hair – Matthew and I – we remember, and we kind of grew up during the time where the industry was shifting from mainframe to client server, and then again from client server to web-based, and then again from web-based to mobile, and now everything is in the cloud. These were major industry shifts, and they required a fundamental rethink of the skills that were required, but what was interesting in all of them is that there were certain consistent themes that carried forward. Now just by way of example, mainframe, and I sort of came in between mainframe and client server. I was in VMS, I was managing VAX, and what I observed was you had these highly disciplined mainframe groups of operators, and things were absolutely done by the book – it’s very rigorous, there was all of the discipline included, and of course client server comes along and says, oh great, we have unix now, we have all of these great, the ability to develop things, and host them on on clients computers. We don’t even have to worry about all of this rigor and discipline. Yeah, we’ll do some of the back office stuff but the rest of it, man! people can do whatever it is they need to do for the business to be successful. Now along, ten years later, comes this whole web development thing, and who are the people with the biggest complaint about the lack of discipline shown by the web developers? The client server people, right? So what happens is that every time there’s a major shift in the industry, we learn how to reapply some of the disciplines that came from the previous industry. Now, they don’t look the same necessarily. If you have to say ‘change management’ for example – we can all agree that change management is an absolutely critical component of managing quality services, but it doesn’t work exactly the same way in a cloud environment with a an agile team of developers, than it used to work on let’s say a mainframe environment or even a client server environment. So, I think one of the things we need to do is focus on those key themes that need to still be carried forward. And I think that’s where something like SFIA – we haven’t really talked about SFIA – but that is where something like SFIA becomes really helpful. Because you don’t have to go back and and look through four versions of ITIL to say ‘now which service management things have stayed the same and which have changed?’. You don’t have to do that, you have a pre-existing framework which has already done all of that work, and says well here are the things that are still relevant and still consistent. They work differently, but here’s here’s what they look like in this new industry factor. So, for me, I think that’s a really important thing to focus on – do not throw away a lot of the skills that were really learned through hard-fought battles. That’s the one I’ll start with, and then of course we’ve already spoken a little bit about the business skills that we need to be learning, finance, marketing, design thinking. These are some of the skills I think, to enable us to get a better understanding of our organization. Some of it is skill, some of it is just getting to know the organization you work in. I’ll make one more point and then I’ll hand over. The point is, a lot of people say well you say go and speak to other people in the organization, who do i speak to? what’s the agenda of the meeting? what do I do with what I learn? So actually it sounds easy to say, that you familiarize yourself with the organization, but there is actually an art and a science behind it, and I think that is one of the skills that I think we take for granted, and I think we need to be focusing more on how we enable people to do that more effectively.

I think the trouble is there’s not really an easy answer to this question, because actually the reality, sorry to make it complicated, but the reality is we actually need more skills of different types than we needed before, and that’s why we’ve seen SFIA going through the years, actually adding more skills. You’re completely right David. Hardly any skills go away – they’re still there. They might change a little bit in how they’re done, and that’s why the descriptions are updated, but I think we have to recognize actually we need a very wide range of skills, and those skills need to be in the right places and the right people at the right times. And what happens is that, when you have so many more skills that need to be deployed somewhere or another, nobody can have all of those skills. So actually, whilst we talk about T-shaped individuals and I-shaped individuals and all these things, yes there are some things that are common, you might want people to have a broad understanding of multiple skills, but the ones that they specialize in will be very different depending on the role. If we had everybody focus on the same skills, we would fall over. It wouldn’t work because we’ll be missing some of the other ones that today we might not think are important, but when they’re not there we’ll find out how important they are. So I think that the first thing we need to recognize really is that there’s lots of skills, so we need a way of identifying which ones are relevant to us as individuals, which ones are relevant to the role that we might be performing, which ones are relevant to the organization. So it’s more about approach, and the way I sort of describe it, maybe a picture will help this a little bit. It’s a little bit like satellite navigation. As technology professionals we need a mechanism to help us navigate, and if we’re doing real navigation that mechanism’s there right? We’ve got our phones, we’ve got our satellite navigation systems, we’ve got maps, we’ve got naming conventions for places. So if I want to find a place, I need to know the name of it, and then I can use the technology. If I turn on my sat nav it tells me where I am. If I type in where I want to go, it plots not just where I am, but where I want to be, on that map, and it helps me to navigate from one place to another. It’s the same with skills, we’re all on a continuous journey, with multiple legs on that journey, and whether it’s us as individuals, our teams, our departments, our whole organizations, it’s still about navigating that journey because the skills we need will change over time, and we need that common language for describing skills, and I worry sometimes. I’m going to put this cartoon up because this illustrates that the point I wanted to make. Sometimes the generic HR approach doesn’t recognize that, and you get all these well-known HR tools that actually, you know one of the best known allows you to have eight skills at four levels, and this is what this cartoon is really illustrating, that when, and this is based on a real conversation I had with the CIO who was implementing one of the main HR tools – I won’t say which one, but they’re all pretty much the same right? They do a great job, but she was trying to fit what her technology department did into eight sections, eight skills. So she had one skill for service delivery, one skill for information security, one skill for development, and this created this situation where the service test manager needing a new service desk analyst to grant people access to applications picked the same skill, information security, as the CISO, the chief information security officer, who needed a digital forensics specialist. So, at that high level, we can dumb it down too much. Because clearly, we all know the service desk analyst and the digital forensics specialist haven’t got the same skill, they don’t do the same thing. So unfortunately we have to get slightly more detailed and describe those specialisms at a level that makes sense, so we can distinguish between them. And that’s exactly what prevents us from hiring somebody with a completely irrelevant security skill because they happen to have ticked that same information security box. And David, you mentioned SFIA, that’s effectively what SFIA does for us, it gives us the maps, the naming conventions, the way of navigating, doesn’t tell you where you need to be, it gives you those naming conventions so that we can plot that route and identify where we need to be and and cover all of those skills. Does that make sense David?

One of the interesting things, and Roy is on the call, and Roy, a number of years ago, pointed out to me that one of the major changes that was happening on service desks was that analysts were learning about new things that users were doing with technology, and feeding that back. I think for many, the temptation has become to view the service desk as having to do all of these things. And I think what is helpful is to use a structure like this to say, you know, there are things that the service desk is involved in, but they need to be fed back to somewhere else, where is that? what skills are needed to deal with that kind of feedback? do those skills need to be cultivated on the service desk? or do we need to cultivate those skills elsewhere in the organization as well? So this kind of structure for me is super helpful for that, otherwise we end up with one group really trying to be forced to do things that they don’t really have time for or even the skills or focus for.

Yeah, because if you spread them too thin, they can’t maintain all of those specialisms. So people do need to focus on the right things, and there’s also a need to, this is something that we’ve struggled with in the IT world, we need to recognize what is a skill or a competency, and and I get so many people that, when you ask them the question ‘what skills are you focused on?’ they tell me a technology, they say it’s C-sharp or C++ or Oracle or whatever. That’s a technology, that’s not a skill. There’s been some steps recently to make that a little bit more understood, and this stuff has been defined already, but people didn’t really understand it and, you know, weren’t using it. A lot of IT is focused on knowledge, a lot of training is focused on knowledge, but actually we need to recognize that knowledge is important, but you need to apply knowledge in order to develop a skill and become proficient in that skill. And it’s a bit like, you know, do I trust my youngest child behind the wheel of the family car, with all the people I love sat in the back, on a long journey when they’ve got no driving experience, they’ve just passed the theory exam. So they’ve got knowledge, and how many times you’ve heard it before, John, I’m sure. How many times have people done the ITIL foundation course and they go back to work and the boss says you’ve done ITIL foundation you’re now in charge of our ITIL project. They’ve got knowledge, but they haven’t had the chance to build a skill, let alone become professionally competent in that area. So this is important.

Yeah, it’s an interesting point, I’d like to explore that a little bit more from two points of view. The one is what you just said is, we put people with a foundation course in charge of service management, for example, and service management is not the only one that suffers from this. But they then discover that they need to be able to do something that wasn’t on that foundation course, develop an entirely new framework to include that thing, only to find out that it was actually in the original framework, it just wasn’t on that foundation course, and there’s a whole bunch of rework that’s gone in. So for me there’s two things – one is the ability to take the basic knowledge and transform that into a skill, but the other thing is also to make sure that that knowledge is complete, that people are in that role actually have explored the areas that they are supposed to have explored before they got into that role. So that’s one thing I’d like to explore, the other thing was this it was a question raised on LinkedIn when we started talking about this, and that was, so this person had seen a number of organizations requesting, and the example he gave was ServiceNow, but it could be any tool, do we see people requesting ServiceNow skills instead of service management skills? Because there are job descriptions saying well we need somebody to be a ServiceNow implementation specialist, well what are they going to do? they’re going to define processes right? why would they be defining processes when they’re an implementation specialist, well because the processes follow the tool. Does the difference between knowledge, skill, competency, does that account for that kind of misunderstanding of how to apply service management principles or agile principles?

Yeah, I think it does partly, but it’s also about, first of all, when we define knowledge, skill, and competency, and those things, is to recognize actually it’s not the technology at all. So ServiceNow was just the mechanism that they were using to do it, but ‘what’ were they doing? Were they designing, as you say, designing the process? were they configuring the tool? were they supporting it and answering application support queries on a on a support desk? what were they doing with it? So I don’t think the technology is irrelevant, it’s just asked too early in the question. I had a phone call many years ago, ‘I need an Oracle DBA’. I’ve never been a database administrator, and I got a phone call based on a 20 year old resume / CV, that had the word ‘Oracle’ in it. And I pointed out to this recruitment agent that actually I had been the program manager for an Oracle Financials implementation, so what I was doing with Oracle was program managing, so my skill was program management, and they were asking me if I’d like to be an Oracle DBA (database administrator). I don’t have the database administration skill, so the the Oracle bit was relevant, so I’m not dismissing it, I’m just saying that, before you get to the technology, what is it you’re asking for? And sometimes you’re happy to take someone with just knowledge, where they’ve got only the theory. You remember the 70/20/10 principle in people’s development plans? 10% of your development is formal off the job training. 20% is near the job coaching, mentoring, and other things like that. 70% of it is done on the job, and therefore actually recognizing that, yes, the knowledge is important. You need the knowledge, and as you say David, relate the knowledge to the activity that you’re going to have to do, and gather all of the knowledge. It tells you how to do all of the activity you’re going to do, so that’s where mapping the knowledge to SFIA can help because it tells you the background knowledge I need to be a program manager, or the background knowledge I need to be a DBA, and they’re very different. But then recognize that just going on the training course might be enough if I don’t mind making mistakes, and what I’m doing isn’t so critical. But maybe my employer would mitigate that risk by giving me someone to help shadow, giving me a mentor to help me, protecting me a little bit from from that business risk so it doesn’t fall over. But when I’m doing that I’m applying the knowledge in a working environment, I’m becoming proficient as I do it more and more times. So I can actually with this, using SFIA, and using this sort of mechanism, get to defining when I’ve gone from knowledge to skill proficiency, and what I’ve got left to do to turn that proficiency into a fully developed professional competency. So professional competency means I’ve done it so many times that every time I do it it’s spot-on, I achieve the right objectives, I haven’t got any more development to do in that skill at that level, my focus is on that skill at a different level, or a different skill. So this is incredibly useful, and I think this is potentially a game changer to just that recognition of those differences. And that’s why I’m so pleased to see the SFIA Foundation and APMG have been involved in this scheme, and so on, in actually getting this in there. You can actually recognize people now for their competency, for their skill proficiency, for their knowledge. And previously all we’ve been able to do is recognize people for their knowledge – they’ve got a training certificate. So I think this is really going to be helpful as this catches on.

I’m going to come in here as time manager, and say, yeah this is some this is game changing, at least in my opinion, as to the way people can actually go about. But they’re just to bring it back to the original question, was what are the skills that people should be focusing on. I think to sum this up, I mean to what you guys said, is there’s tons of skills. You couldn’t really name the top five, and when you use a framework like SFIA, it’s valuable both to the individual and to the organization. The individual can go in, determine the skills they have and create a development plan. Something like we’re doing with CIPS in Canada, where they’re baselining IT professionals across the entire country, to figure out where the country is going to see increased demand over what specific skills, and then if you’re trying to make more money, or further your career, you you take those five skills that are going to be most in demand in your country, in your industry, in whatever it is that you like and want to do with the rest of your career.

You can make a well-informed decision, so you might not know the answer to that question because the answer is going to be different depending on your organization, depending on your specialism. The answer is going to be different, so it’s actually more important to work out how do you work that out, which skills you need, how do you work that out, rather than what are the skills. Because one organization won’t need, Ii’m thinking of a skill, radio frequency engineering. Somebody said to me ‘why is radio frequency engineering still in SFIA, we don’t do that anymore’. Well, you might not in your organization, but guess what, this mobile telco that I’m working with, they do that quite a lot, and so does this military organization when they’re setting up communication stations in the field of battle wherever they are in the world. So that skill is still relevant to those organizations, but you take a finance company, probably not. And that’s okay, there’s not a problem, but what are they? They’re going to be different for everyone. So using a framework, you can actually you can actually assess what skills you’ve got, and say ‘what’s missing?’ Of what’s missing, which ones do we think we should have? Which ones are irrelevant to us, we don’t need? Great then you know where your gaps are.

As an organizational leader you can start looking at the analytics of this, if you start to measure what skills and competencies you have across your organization, you can start using this information and data to determine what projects we should assign for the upcoming devops sprint, or as you’re creating your development plan, you know David talks a lot about service management, and kind of moving into whatever’s next, you might have 150 people with a multitude of different service management skills, but your upcoming project plan for the next two to five years is only going to need 20 or 30 people. What are we going to do with these people for upskilling and reskilling?

That’s the other important thing, what has also changed, going back to that first question, is the frequency of change. Actually you mentioned agile David, do you have to pay a fee every time you mention the word? Not sure, I can’t remember.

We’re okay, it’s a small ‘a’, so we’re OK.

Actually the important point is that that has changed. People don’t always plan their projects six months ahead, and can say ‘what do we need for that project?’. It’s actually ‘I’ve got a sprint starting next Tuesday and I need somebody with these three skills at this level’. So the sprint that starts in two and a half weeks time will need a completely different set of skills, so it’s very dynamic, very changeable, so that means that’s why we need to get better at this.

So I think David, that’s a great segway. We’ve kind of started this topic here but I would love your thoughts on how to create a blueprint for getting ahead of this, especially as the pandemic has certainly accelerated the need to do so.

So, I want to answer this question by starting with something that Mike Milburn said in the chat, which is apprenticeship is really critical. That it’s very difficult to create a blueprint for your organization that keeps ahead of the demand, if you do not already have very firm solid ways of transferring knowledge and making sure that you have the the skills and competencies that you need in your organization today. So I think it has to happen within the context of where you are today, and within the context, the relationships that you have with people already. You’re starting to see how people’s behavior is changing, the kind of demands that the jobs are placing on them. Those sources come through, as we mentioned before, from the service desk and other places. So I think part of it is to become a learning organization, that if you’re going to be mentoring or become a master trades person who has apprentices, you need to be staying up to date on what is coming next. And I think that is going to be one of the most critical things. In the past it was well, as long as you’re implementing this framework, you’re okay, whatever that framework happened to be. In the future it’s what’s coming next, and is this going to be a key technology or a key direction in our business. And to be able to create a blueprint means that you have to understand where the business is going to go, and that may change dramatically. Now there’s an additional challenge with this, and i was just reading, any of you interested in how innovation impacts, this great book by Clayton Christensen called the Innovator’s Dilemma, in which he talks about the fact that when you embark on a new direction with the new technology, something that is disruptive, you have no idea, neither do your customers, on where that technology is going to take you. And so there is a certain amount of leadership style and management style which you have to adopt, in order to embark on directions which are fast changing. So I think that’s my first step, first two things, one is you really have to have those solid learning relationships in place already, and the second is you really have to be agile with a small a, in the way in which you learn and observe where the business is headed so that you can start applying that. And then it’s a matter of making sure, the third point is, that you understand where to get the information which will cultivate the knowledge, which will cultivate the competencies. So we talked about cloud earlier, cloud is one of the areas next to cyber security, I think, which is going to have the biggest shortage of skills coming up. Having said that, there are hundreds of certifications for potential cloud, and it can be really really confusing. So, as leaders we need to be sifting through those, and figuring out for our organizations which are those that are most relevant to the direction that we’re taking. And that means understanding the business that we’re in as well.

And I think it’s a great opportunity, not to jump in there Matthew, that future technology monitoring is a SFIA skill.

Absolutely, emerging technology monitoring, yeah absolutely it is. And I think that in your answer right at the beginning David, I’m going to paraphrase slightly, but you were saying ‘you have to start from where you’. And sometimes what I find is, actually, people don’t know where they are, right? What skills they’ve got. Actually most organizations don’t have a skill inventory, they’ve never actually gone and checked what they really have. They think they know. What I can say from 20 plus years of doing the SFIA stuff with organizations, what they really have is always, every single time, different to what they thought they had. And then yet again, different from what they need. So actually, the first thing that organizations that are doing well in this space are doing, is answering that ‘what skills do we have’ question. Building the skill inventory, having a skill profile for each person that says all of the skills that they have, not just the subset that they use in their current role. Now, that exercise can be remarkably simple to do, and very quick, if you do it in an appropriate way. And yet a lot of people put it off as not as important as some of the other stuff they need to do. This is critically important because all of your training is likely to be the wrong stuff in the wrong proportions, because you don’t really know where you’re starting from. It’s like that navigation, if you don’t plot the route from where you are now, all of your routes are going to be wrong. So actually that’s the first thing to do. When you build that skill inventory you answer lots of questions. You find out lots of things. Some of it confirms what you already knew – great! Some of it highlights stuff that you didn’t know – skills you thought you had, that you don’t have. And when I look at the things that make the press, those are responsible for most of those things. I didn’t have somebody with the right skill that knew that they had to patch those servers to stop that vulnerability, or I didn’t have someone setting the policy that says we patch our servers that way. So knowing where you are, taking a view on what you need, using that common language to do it, which is where SFIA comes in. And then, to keep those people, taking a genuine interest in their skills, being transparent about the opportunities that they have, so describe the skills and need it for all the other roles, so they can look at their career paths. And then empower the individuals and the managers to have a decent conversation about it, keep that data up to date, because it’s always changing, and embed the use of that in your decision making. So, what skills you need in three months time, well with this you’ve got a mechanism for doing it. You won’t know exactly what they are yet, but you’ve got a mechanism for keeping up to date. So that blueprint, if you like, Ii can summarize it as this: you’ve got common language, know what you have, know what you need, so both of those things change so you’ve got to keep them up to date. Do the analysis between the two to see where your gaps and your development opportunities are, and then create an action plan that closes them off. It’s as simple as that. One one of the things that we can do for people on this call, at the end of it, I’m going to put up a QR code and a link. If you’re not sure where your organization is, this will take you about 10 minutes to work it out. I’m going to give you a link so you can click on it. It’s all free. Do an assessment, and you can work out where your organization is on this maturity scale, and not only that, the report will actually tell you the benefits of getting to a different level. So you can decide where you want to get to next, and it will give you the business case material for persuading your colleagues internally of why they need to spend a bit of focus on people and skills. So that would be my main thing. You know you need to do something. If you use this link you’ll be able to find out what you need to do, and how to do it. It’s free and it takes 10 minutes – that’ll tell you your blueprint!

Sounds like that’s the magic answer there Matthew. I appreciate that. We’re closing in on the end of our scheduled time here, and I wanted to give everybody an opportunity to give any final thoughts. It’s amazing listening to you guys talk. The world is changing quickly David.

Quicker than we can keep track sometimes. But I think my closing comment would be ‘don’t leave it to chance’. I worked for a large vendor organization, I won’t name any names, and of course they had this thing, you know 40% is self training and 20% is mentoring, and so on. What that equates to was 100% figure out how to do it yourself. It doesn’t work. If you don’t have the relationship with the people that you’re expecting to produce the results in your organization, it’s not going to work. You can tell them to go and do their own study and their own training, but there’s no guarantee that they’re going to they’re going to come back with the thing that is really needed. Yes, there has to be a balance of self-development as well, but don’t leave this to chance. And the only way you can do this is through having that kind of constructive relationship. I’ve been reading, just for fun sometimes, these social media things related to horrible bosses. Maybe one of the biggest skills here is how to become better bosses, but basically, what a lot of these have to do, if you ignore all of the ‘you called me on my day off’ kind of stuff, a lot of it has to do with people who just don’t understand what it is that their employees need to learn, and how to encourage them to do that, and how to set that direction together with them to make sure that they’re achieving what they’re expected to achieve. And I think that to me, just again just, don’t leave it to chance. It needs to be very deliberately thought out and needs to be a collaborative effort between the managers and the people who who report to them.

Yep, I’ve just seen a question coming up, Mike’s asked if any of us have heard of DDaT. Absolutely! For those who don’t know, UK government based digital framework that describes roles that they use across UK government. So yeah, I’ve used that quite a lot. It’s actually fully mapped to SFIA, so what DDaT gives you is some role templates that you can use, and there’s lots of role templates, not just from DDaT UK government. There’s Australian government, there’s Saudi government, there’s in the US the NICE and NIST. There’s loads of roles. In fact we’ve got about 650/700 of them all mapped to SFIA, so actually SFIA is still that common language. These roles are suggestions of starting points as templates, and they can be really useful. So hopefully that picks up just that question I saw coming through. But you you’re absolutely right David, you’ve got to do something. We can’t afford to do nothing. You do have to think about what you need. You do have to do a bit of work to talk to the right people to understand what’s coming up, predict what’s needed. You can’t afford to just sit around and hope this thing’s never going to bite you on the back side, because what we’re seeing is the people skills element is starting to bite people on the backside and they’re losing their best people. So no more should I hear ‘this is a good thing to do but it’s not top priority’ anymore, maybe we’ll come back to in a year’s time’. It’ll be too late then! You need to take your people seriously, and their development needs seriously, and understand what’s needed, and plan!

Perfect! Well I want to thank the two of you guys for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share some of this amazing thought leadership. We want to close this up and tell everybody to enjoy their weekend, and thank you for your time gentlemen.

My pleasure.
Thank you very much.