As long as IT has existed, it’s been an important part of enterprises’ success, from supporting communications to securely storing important data. But this has changed dramatically in recent years, and much more is now being expected of IT departments. The introduction of mobility, virtualization and the like, plus the proliferation of devices and operating systems within a given organization’s infrastructure, all mean that IT departments have a lot more responsibility.


According to CareerBuilder, IT jobs in the U.S. grew by 13 percent from 2002 to 2013 to match this growth in responsibility. However, the number of people who graduated with IT degrees dropped 11 percent in that same time frame, creating a fairly massive shortage of IT applicants. It’s no surprise that, today, of the three most difficult positions to fill in the U.S., two are in the IT space: engineers and programmers. But this isn’t just a problem of quantity. The IT skills shortage has actually been made worse by rapid technological evolution and a focus on low-level, “fire-fighting” work in the IT department.


First, as companies embrace digital and mobile technology, our existing IT skilled labor supply has failed to keep up. This is primarily the result of a lack of industry standardization from the start, both in technology and applications. With the sudden introduction of numerous new applications and functionality, every company, and perhaps every engineer, defined its own way of patching an application, programming a server or deploying a new service. Plus, with so much to be learned, many workers specialized and became siloed in their knowledge. Without a common language between them or any industry standardization, engineers became limited to very small spheres within IT, and still today, the IT industry lacks employees with a broad technical engineering understanding.


This deficiency of expertise is exacerbated by the fact that IT departments don’t provide employees with sufficient opportunities to develop their skills on the job. In fact, a study that IPsoft commissioned late last year found that IT staff are spending nearly a third of their time on low-level IT tasks such as responding to incidents and checking for errors. Not only is this a waste of time and talent, but it is extremely demotivating for employees. Why spend time learning new skills if they won’t be utilized? On the other hand, those IT engineers that have developed high-level qualifications find that they use, on average, only 47 percent of them in their current IT positions.


Something needs to change — that much is clear. With a growing gap between the demands of modern IT positions and the skill set of the existing workforce, compounded by the growing demands of technology in the business world, the skills shortage will only get worse if we continue down this path. But how can we reverse this trajectory?


An important part of the solution will be for organizations to invest in IT training and empower labor intelligence. While budgets have slowly been whittled down over the last decade, more and more executive boards are realizing this is not a lasting solution, and, in response, are freeing up resources to fund IT growth. Those resources will be used in a variety of functions, but most importantly, must be applied to developing IT engineers’ technical expertise. In particular, organizations should aim to expand the skill sets of higher-level engineers that can immediately add more value to a business and its bottom line. This will also enable a trickle-down effect in that trained senior engineers can then educate junior and incoming employees, further extending the reach of this training.


It’s also important that IT departments better manage increasingly complex infrastructure and multi-sourcing strategies, allowing engineering teams to focus their efforts on defining and applying innovative solutions to organizations’ most complex problems. Having a single expert system that behaves as an overarching framework across all systems and processes is one way of doing this. Expert systems can act as a layer of intelligence across an organization’s IT infrastructure, helping to move IT employees away from their individual silos by giving them visibility of the complete picture. Expert systems also provide an ITIL framework, enabling a practical structure for identifying, planning, delivering and supporting IT services. As a result, IT can rely on a more standardized approach, allowing engineers to deliver a higher quality of service for every platform.


By empowering IT employees with new training and knowledge, while also giving them the opportunity to apply their efforts to more complex tasks, we can hopefully create a more robust and motivated workforce to support the growing applications of technology. A strong and capable team of IT experts will be invaluable as more businesses buy into cloud environments, SDN and big data, among numerous technology trends. The investments in creating and supporting that team must come immediately.