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December 11, 2012

Skills Gap Delivers Flash Point for Opportunity

By Marie Lingblom

Cloud, mobile, analytics and social technologies have taken off much faster than any set of skills sharp enough to keep pace. If these technologies are to live up to their promise of transforming business, government services and society, there’s work to do.

“I believe that these new technologies could help rekindle economic growth around the world. But only if we close the skills gap—and fast,” says Jim Corgel, IBM general manager for Academic and Developer Relations, in a blog posted last week.
Corgel’s observations go hand-in-hand with the release of The 2012 IBM Tech Trends Report. Based on a global survey of more than 1,200 technology decision-makers, 250 academics and 450 students, the results reveal gaps and opportunities moving forward.

Just one out of 10 of the organizations surveyed say they have the skills needed to address these emerging technologies. Sixty percent of business decision-makers believe there is a significant skills gap. Seventy-three percent among educators and students see a sizable gap, and nearly half see major shortfalls in their institution’s ability to respond.

IBM’s survey is one of many underscoring the urgency of the skills gap moving into the new year. In response, Corgel notes businesses should, for instance, encourage experimentation and allow employees to try out new technologies. And work with business partners to set a shared skills agenda.

Universities, meanwhile, need new programs and curricula that incorporate real-world technology and business cases. Local industry ecosystems, says Corgel, are an excellent way to keep up with trends and place students in meaningful internships.
For its part, IBM last week unveiled the largest expansion of its Academic Initiative since the program began. For instance, IBM will for the first time offer access to curriculum and training resources on IT security to help students gain market-ready cyber security skills.

When it comes to cloud computing, it’s clear that enterprises are on board. So what type of cloud-computing skills are needed? Scott Hebner, IBM Vice President for Cloud Computing, says it starts with the ability to actually design and build cloud-based applications. These apps, he says, tend to be mobile applications that are dynamically provisioned to a mobile device or some mobile “thing” such as a car or electricity grid.

A second major skill Hebner highlights is IT management. How do you manage it all and ensure that your IT infrastructure is able to handle the dynamic workloads of a cloud environment? “Because one thing you get into with cloud computing is… where does your infrastructure begin and end these days? So you need to build the skills to be able to work in a more dynamic, fast-paced environment,” says Hebner.

So how can these skills be acquired? Hebner suggests becoming knowledgeable with open standards efforts around cloud computing. In particular, he suggests becoming familiar with OpenStack open source cloud computing software.

“Not only do you learn the technology and get a better understanding of what’s happening with the technology, but you start to work within a community of people designing these architectures,” he says.

Hebner also suggests other IBM resources, such as technical assets and experts available from programs such as IBM Developer Work and IBM Smart Cloud communities.

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