Tech skills are in demand due the huge digital shift we are seeing across all industries, and tech teams within businesses are under pressure everyday to meet deadlines, deliver projects and solve problems.
Patrick Hubbard, from SolarWinds, explains how IT professionals can overcome this pressure and high workload to ensure that they are continuing their learning and development.
Whether you are an IT pro yourself, or someone that manages a tech team, it’s important to recognise how driving up-skilling can create greater efficiency, productivity and overall job satisfaction in your company.
So how can tech teams continue learning when they are so time-poor? As Patrick explains, the answer is simpler than expected.
IT pros always want to improve themselves, but time isn’t on their side.
According to the 2019 SolarWinds® IT Trends Report, most IT pros understand the need to up-skill themselves for the future – but over 79% of IT professionals inevitably find their career development time being taken up by their day-to-day responsibilities instead.
More than 25% say this encroachment happens on a regular basis. And while our IT Pro Day survey discovered a majority have taken the initiative of obtaining certification from leading vendors, over 63% of IT pros never complete them, with over 47% citing time as the greatest barrier.
Besides resorting to a TARDIS-like solution, how can IT pros protect enough time to upskill for the future while excelling in their present duties?
It turns out the answer is straightforward: by asking the right questions, speaking to the right people, and setting the right expectations. When they do that, IT pros can obtain the right amount of time (and resources, including budget!) to upskill themselves amidst their daily grind. And those who can often find it’s a virtuous cycle—upskilling makes reducing operations toil more likely, thereby creating more upskilling time.
Are you learning the right things?
As a first step, IT pros should evaluate their chosen areas of learning and assess how and if these interests are crucial to the future of the business, their workloads, and even their careers.
For instance, while it can be tempting to devote time towards exploring buzzworthy emerging technologies like blockchain, such a move only makes sense if you expect those technologies to become a regular responsibility in the future. Be wary about spreading learning too broadly and thinly—doing so can leave IT pros with even less time and energy to devote towards gaining sufficient proficiency in the most useful and in-demand skills.
A better approach would be to align upskilling with technologies expected to play a business-critical role in the future. This would naturally involve conversations with management, stakeholders, and decision-makers to understand the business’ goals, which will drive technology changes in the next two to three years—and hence the technological gaps that would hinder, or even derail, the achievement of those objectives.
This approach does more than help IT teams align their limited learning time with near-term operations. It also reminds cost-aware management of IT upskilling as a crucial component towards negating business risks in the future, and they should devote the necessary resources and support to enable it. It’s a pragmatic approach to not only gain extra skills development time, but also funding for upskilling efforts across the technology organization, even self-initiated ones.
Are you learning the right way?
With the support of management behind them—or at least increased support—IT pros can confidently explore learning methods complementary to their busy schedules and match those to their preferred learning styles.
Based on findings from the IT Pro Day survey, 54% of IT pros find full-day, immersive workshops to be the most conducive learning experience, while 35% would prefer upskilling to happen within the company, and possibly on-the-job.
Mileage will vary according to the individual, but it’s ultimately crucial to find the right learning method—or a mix of them—to fully maximise what little time exists for the development of future skills.
Most importantly, however, IT pros must add another new skill—ongoing discipline for continuous development. Learning shouldn’t be confined to a seminar hall or meeting room; rather, it should be a consistent and constant endeavour for IT pros, no matter how packed or seemingly ridiculous their schedules may be.
Critical issue response aside, they should set aside time during the day to further hone future-ready skills through free vendor programs, online courses, or books. Even fifteen minutes a day is enough to start and usually show value to justify the investment. By keeping faithfully to this schedule, even the busiest IT pro can compound their learning across a series of days or months—without suffering a dip in their assigned work performance.
Are you learning from the right people?
IT pros should realise – because IT specialities and tasks can seem isolating—they aren’t alone in their learning struggles. Millions of other IT pros and thousands of teams have invested, grown, and triumphed over the challenge of balancing upskilling with their workloads. And fortunately, many of them are publishing their experiences to help other IT pros take this opportunity to learn from the best of them.
Lifelong learners congregate on online IT communities on platforms like Stack Overflow, GitHub, or THWACK® to share tips, give feedback, and provide encouragement to IT pros embarking down their journey of learning on-the-job.
Even a quick trip down memory lane will be enough to remind most IT pros that learning doesn’t always feel possible. Embracing the challenge becomes easier when IT pros know they’re encouraged to start, how they can do so for maximal efficiency, and who can help them along what should be a lifelong journey. And the more they align their learning agendas with the business goals of their organisations, the more justification they’ll have to protect time set aside for professional development and upskilling. After all, the future of the business—and their careers—depends on it.
Patrick Hubbard is Head Geek™ at SolarWinds.