Professionals are training in record numbers, but 79% of IT decision-makers are reporting worsening, business-impacting skills gaps. Something is wrong. Professionals and organizations are not coordinating their training delivery format selection with how critical the skill need is to accomplishing their goals. This is a costly mistake when opportunities for success are becoming more difficult to find.

As more organizations digitally transform into tech companies, the shelf life of existing skills is expiring faster than ever. Similarly, not developing new skills in your most valuable asset – your people – has significant repercussions. The tech industry is experiencing firsthand what happens when continuous people development is and is not prioritized. The effect of the skills economy is being acutely felt, and organizations with the right skills are rising to the top.

The data used throughout this article is from the world’s largest global annual survey of IT staff and decision-makers — the IT Skills and Salary Report. It has uncovered troubling data that illuminates why organizational skills gaps are growing so rapidly.

Those Who Need Skills are Facing Uphill Battles

The realities that result from the “we’re too busy” or “we can hire our way out of it” excuses are catching up to organizations at threatening rates. Top talent is difficult to find and comes at a premium salary – with salaries the highest they’ve ever been in the 13 years of the report. Additional impacts of skills gaps include:

  • 64% of IT decision-makers report increased stress on employees.
  • 50% are dealing with talent recruitment and retention challenges.
  • 49% say they aren’t meeting quality objectives.
  • 46% suffer from increased project durations.

Alarmingly, the survey also revealed that only 58% of IT decision-makers have a training budget, and, of that group, only 60% authorized training in 2019. Even when they have training budgets, they’re not using them. But when we do train, are we going about it the right way?

Perceived Training Effectiveness vs. What is Actually Being Taken

Have you ever met an IT professional who wasn’t juggling a million things at once? Organizations ask their employees to do a lot – especially in IT. Technology doesn’t stop, and neither do they. Fifty four percent of IT professionals said their current workloads are higher than the previous year, leaving less and less time to develop new skills to keep driving the business forward. So, when training is approved, training effectiveness is of the utmost importance.

Rating the Effectiveness of Training

Over 11,200 IT professionals were asked to rate the effectiveness of five ways to train: an informal training session at work (peer-to-peer, ad hoc), web-based on-demand (self-paced), live instructor-led online (virtual), instructor-led classroom (out of office) and instructor-led onsite training.

Instructor-led training (ILT) was the clear winner, which shouldn’t be surprising. ILT provides real-time interaction between the learner and an expert instructor who has experience and expertise. These subject matter experts (SMEs) can cater the content specifically to their audience, create a rich and collaborative environment conducive to learning, and can see when the light bulbs do and don’t turn on in a person’s mind. On-demand is one-way, less structured and questions may linger rather than being resolved in the class.

Actual Training Taken in the Past Year

Those same professionals were then asked what formal training they took in the past year. Web-based, on-demand training was the most-used training method at 70%, with out-of-office classroom training in second at 42%.

You might be wondering why the more effective ways to train aren’t utilized more often? Especially when 67% of IT professionals prefer formal instructor-led training. Well, it’s not that simple. Let’s look at some of the reasons:

  • The training industry is going through its own digital transformation. In the past few years, there has been tremendous migration toward virtual and on-demand training. The technology, platforms and science to make more impactful virtual and on-demand training is accelerating.
  • The upfront cost savings, increased flexibility and accessibility to training enables learning to become more agile. However, a by-product of this is that all training delivery formats are being valued the same. Learning effectiveness has been lost in the shadow of the previously aforementioned perks. What is seemingly cheaper, costs you more in the long run.

It’s hard for IT professionals to get away from work to train; 44% of IT workers cite work demands as the reason it’s difficult to formally train. Recall the earlier data point that of the 58% of IT decision-makers who have a training budget, only 60 percent authorized training. This demonstrates a tremendous disconnect, because 85% of IT professionals reported some level of training this past year. IT professionals don’t sit back and wait; they make things happen. They’re training with what’s available. Some are even spending their own money. Why are IT professionals having to moonlight their skills development when their organization is struggling against a skills crisis?

On-demand training’s rapid rise in popularity is supported by its low cost and 24/7 availability. But IT professionals are saying it’s not as effective, compared to learning from an instructor in a structured learning environment, for developing the critical skills they need to do their jobs

There will always be some level of skills gap, but leaders responsible for skills development need to rethink how they manage development for their teams and organization. In concert with listening to their people, leaders need to assess, manage, and address skills gaps and needs based on the criticality and complexity of a skill set when determining how to train.

The Future of How You Train is Based on the Criticality of Skill

Every delivery format serves a specific purpose, but there isn’t much guidance on strategically selecting a delivery format. There are three factors to consider when determining how critical the skill needed is and how to select the right delivery format: priority, value and risk.

The greater the criticality of a skill, the greater the need is for structure in the following areas:

  • Learning plan
  • Measurement and governance
  • Training delivery
  • Learning accountability
  • Robustness of format
  • Scalability and repeatability

Each factor is then indexed relative to the organizational value. This is further outlined and explained in the Skills Development Index. You’ll be able to determine when each delivery format (self-paced and on-demand, virtual classroom, blended, or in-person classroom) is best.

The Days of “Random Acts of Training” are Over

Professionals, teams and organizations must be intentional with their skill needs and how they develop them. We can no longer mindlessly put people in classrooms or provide digital courses. There is a time and place for both, but before that’s decided there must be a clear expectation of what success looks like and what is needed to succeed.

“Technology is changing so fast.” It’s a phrase we hear ad nauseum. Successful organizations don’t dwell on this fact. They say, “Yes, it is,” and move with intention in investing in the people responsible for driving the business and their tech forward. To further increase the chances of achieving their goals, they factor in the value, priority and risk to the business, as well as how the learner wants to learn.

Organizations are constantly balancing between supporting business requirements and serving the learners’ needs. We can’t forget that this is all about the people. People are your organization’s future. When people must fend for themselves or express to you that the resources they’re being provided are ineffective, nobody wins. And that shiny new technology that made so many promises now causes headaches and remains underutilized. That’s the thing about technology, it’s only as powerful as the people trained to use it.