The OCEAN View: More Skills, Less Blame
August 8, 2011 Dan Burger
The best use of an IT manager’s time is planning IT strategy. Many would say this sounds good on paper, but the reality of the job pushes this best practice down the priority list. There are many sickening symptoms that arise, not the least of which is a disease that affects the IT staff. It’s called skills atrophy. Its weakening effects may not be noticed in the early stages. Yet, one day, when business units call on IT to do some heavy lifting, the muscle isn’t there. The next sound you hear is the complaining of the business strategists.
Just like in many endeavors, the will to succeed is far greater than the willingness to prepare to succeed.
Two weeks ago, I attended the OCEAN Tech Conference, an annual educational conference hosted by the local user group based in Orange County, California. Attendees, session presenters, and vendors at an event such as this understand the importance of continuing education. Session topics that attracted the greatest interest included: mobile application development, using the modern enhancements to RPG, data transfer tools, and SQL skills. These are topics that directly relate to projects that are being planned and projects that are under way. They represent your modern IBM i shops at work, my friends–forward-thinking companies and ambitious IT professionals.
So having a conversation about IT skills development not surprisingly leads toward the value of education and training.
And built in to that discussion is the conclusion that companies prepared to succeed seldom suffer from skills atrophy.
The IBM i user community is not that much different from other businesses running other platforms. Much about this topic is platform independent. This is about business success, career development, and lack of initiative.
Businesses require strategic moves that correspond with economic fluctuations and marketplace changes. These things have impacts throughout organizations, including IT departments. Regardless of the ups and downs from outside the company, the internal demand for information and the streamlining of workflow processes has steadily increased. Business goals and IT objectives require more integration.
The best bet to make that happen is by creating a skilled workforce that understands a specific business (yours) and the specific industry in which you hope to thrive. That business experience, combined with experience working with the existing IT system, is why training and educating staff yields better results than outsourcing or replacing in-house IT staff with outsiders. Most businesses have unique characteristics that have a lot to do with some degree of success or failure.
To assume that all individuals want to be trained, however, is overly optimistic. Some will, but most won’t. The individual push to update skills is less than typical. The drive to excel isn’t nearly as infectious as the desire to complain, or to slack off. Neither of those, by the way, has proved to be the fast track to raises or promotions.
But the flip side of this is that organizations with minimal training expenditures probably don’t have an IT strategy to overcome business challenges. They put themselves in a bad situation by not investing in the good people they have on staff. Not only by underutilizing their people investment, but by limiting the amount of business and IT integration that could be applied toward a successful goal.
Companies say they can’t find people with the required skills. So why don’t they invest in the people they have? Investing in equipment is easier–and faster–than investing in people, but investments in people yield better returns over the long haul.
And for individuals who want to move up the career path, keep their jobs, or get back into the job market, why aren’t more of them concerned about updating and expanding their skills? Those who invest in themselves are a small percentage of the workforce.
The individuals and the companies tend to blame one another when the wound is examined, but they generally co-exist without issues if left alone. No one wins in those situations.
At least when I attend an event like the OCEAN Tech Conference, I see companies and individuals who are moving forward. It’s encouraging from both angles. Companies and individuals need to make this event and others like it stepping stones, not islands.