More than three quarters of IT leaders think the skills gap will either stay the same or improve over the next few years, according to research by Microsoft, which claimed the findings are "surprising" and a "cause for concern".
The Microsoft Cloud Skills Report surveyed 250 IT leaders with direct responsibility for recruitment about their views on the importance of cloud skills, certifications, and gender diversity.
One of the key findings of the survey, which was completed in December, was that just 14 per cent of people expect it to be harder, or much harder, to recruit staff with cloud skills within the next two years. More than a third (34 per cent) expected the skills gap to stay the same, and 48 per cent said they expect it to be easier or much easier to find the cloud skills their businesses need.
In the report, Microsoft said its view differs significantly from that of those surveyed.
"Projections showing the gap between the number of people with cloud skills versus the number of roles available continue to show that this gap will continue to widen for many years to come," said the report. "For example, according to the Hays Global Skills Index, last year marked the fifth consecutive year of a rising UK skills shortage, particularly in the technical engineering and specialist technology roles into which cloud skills fall. As such, the challenges of finding people with the skills to enable organisations to bring their digital transformation strategies to life are only set to worsen. The fact that this is recognised by only 14 per cent of respondents should be a cause for concern."
Glenn Wollaghan (pictured), partner business and development lead at Microsoft, told CRN that he does not believe the skills gap will get smaller any time soon.
"The important point that came out is that a lot of companies think it is going to be easier going forwards to recruit new people with new skills," he said.
"We find that very surprising. Cindy [Rose, Microsoft CEO] mentioned this morning the Hays Global Skills Index which last year marked the fifth consecutive year of rising skills shortages, particularly in technical engineering roles. So we believe this is only going to get more challenging as we go forwards.
"I read a Gartner quote recently which said that by 2020, a 'no-cloud' policy will be as rare as a 'no-internet' policy is today. As we look at emerging technologies such as AI, augmented reality, IoT, virtual reality, and blockchain, lots of those today are very niche. But as we've seen over the past few years, they will go mainstream very fast. If we don't have the skills in those new technologies by the time they [reach the] mainstream, that skills gap is going to grow.
"This is where our focus on diversity needs to play a part. The report says 80 per cent of jobs in tech filled are by men. A more concerning statistic is that a third of those companies surveyed said they had no intention of changing that mix, which is quite frightening."
The survey revealed that of those asked, 46 per cent of companies either encouraged female recruitment as a policy or had specific targets in place to boost the number of women in their workforce. But the majority said they either have nothing in place to promote the recruitment of women, or they don't know about any such policy.
Microsoft branded this finding as "worrying".
"Evidence from a wide range of global sources suggests that addressing the gender imbalance will derive significant benefits for global economies," the report said. "A recent study by McKinsey suggests that narrowing the gender gap could add as much as $12tn to the GDP by 2025, equivalent to 11 per cent of the world's GDP. A global study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY suggests that an organisation with 30 per cent female leadership can increase profitability by 15 per cent."
Microsoft runs a number of initiatives to boost cloud skills in the country as a whole, and some are specifically targeted at women and girls. However, according to its own diversity statistics, just 26 per cent of its global workforce - across all areas of the business - are female. Just 17 per cent of its technical roles are held by women.
Microsoft is not the only firm aiming to help close the skills gap and also encourage more girls into the industry, with a number of other vendors and trade groups trying to tackle the issue.
When asked by CRN if vendors ought to try to tackle the issue together by teaming up and running joint projects rather than numerous smaller ones, Woolaghan said:
"We work very closely across government and education, and we work very closely across our broad base of partners as well. The Government Digital Strategy lays out a path for a better skills base in the UK and our part in that, obviously, is a great investment in digital skills. Microsoft has always been very active in the skills market, and we've recently consolidated all those resources and funding into the Digital Skills Academy."
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