If you’re working in IT, or driving a digital transformation, you’re already aware of the skills shortage in the industry.

You might also know the shortage hasn’t yet reached its peak. Some analysts predict a global talent shortage of up to 85 million people by 2030, and many of these unfilled roles will be in technology areas like data science and cybersecurity.

How can you overcome this growing skills shortage in your organization, not just in the immediate future, but with a lasting solution?


Head of CX Portfolio Product Development at Cisco, Tony Colon, has a few ideas. From founding his own successful tech startup, to previously leading innovation teams at Salesforce, he’s developed a number of strategies for finding and keeping top engineering talent.

Tony has always had a passion for active learning and finding new ways to help talented and innovative people develop their skills. Today, his purview includes Learning@Cisco, headed by Mike Adams, which helps Cisco and other companies meet skills shortages with detailed training curriculums and guidance.

From investing in diversity, to leveraging next-gen education programs, and building a purpose-driven culture, here are Tony’s guiding principles for fixing the tech talent gap.


Measuring the gap ● Unfilled positions currently cost tech companies $20.1B annually (Forbes, 2017) ● 3.5M unfilled positions by 2021 in cybersecurity alone (Forbes, 2018) ● 45% of small businesses are unable to find qualified candidates to fill job openings (Forbes, 2017) ● 60% of all employers have job openings that stay vacant for twelve weeks or longer, costing $800,000 annually in lost productivity and advertising fees (Forbes, 2017)


Diversify your talent options

As an Advisory Board Member of the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC) Tony is passionate about workplace diversity. He believes diversity hiring practices not only drive positive social impact, but are also good for business.

For example, women are largely underrepresented in tech, making up only 26% of the workforce. By encouraging equality and promoting workplace diversity, businesses can significantly increase the size of their talent pool.

“It’s not a secret that technology has been a very male-dominated area. To change that and reduce the talent gap, seek more diverse candidates,” Tony said.

Not only will you reduce your talent gap, you’ll also be more innovative. Recent studies show diverse workplaces lead to better outcomes for businesses overall. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that companies with higher diversity had on average 19% higher revenue from increased innovation.

Businesses can also broaden recruitment from a socioeconomic perspective. Many community colleges are full of intelligent, talented and ambitious people who may not have had the financial opportunity to study at a larger university.

“I’ve found amazing people at community colleges in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. In my experience, many of these people are as talented as candidates from bigger schools.”

Explore outsourcing option

Another practical consideration for many companies is to leverage their existing partner relationships. Large tech vendors often have access to high-quality IT talent and can help companies fill skills shortages with professional and managed services, and by providing technical support.

Many companies also engage in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), hiring out non-core business processes, such as help desk or HR, to fill shortages while focusing on more strategic growth projects.

As Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence become more practical, many organizations will also invest in automation capabilities to complete some workplace tasks. However, Tony believes this technology will work best when combined with the human touch.

“Automation is best used for repetitive tasks, but you also need what I refer to as ‘the white glove experience’, maintaining that human touch is very important. Together they’re the perfect combination.”



Train your talent to the top

Tony believes upskilling existing staff is one of the most impactful methods to fix the talent problem, and will be increasingly important as job roles become more fluid.

In a recent Cisco survey, global technology executives reported that the rate of industry change today is 1.6 times greater than just five years ago. The survey showed a correlation between increased training budgets and business transformation success, with 46% of the most successful companies planning to invest more in training in the coming year.

Don’t rely on universities to give your talent all the skills they need

Due to the ever-accelerating rate of change in business, the average shelf-life of a skill learned today is less than five years. Even the best university degree in the world isn’t going to equip newly graduated recruits with the skills they need for life.

What’s more, given the cost of a university education is prohibitive for many groups in society, limiting your talent pool to only undergraduates means you’ll miss out on bright and driven individuals who could add real value to your business.

A growing number of tech companies now value practical experience and soft skills at least as much as university degrees.

“There's still value in having an undergraduate degree in some cases – Computer Science definitely exposed me to the knowledge I needed at the time. But I do think university is becoming less and less of a requirement.”

Tony recommends businesses take training into their own hands, expanding their work MBA programs to upskill top talent by giving them experience in a range of different departments. The breadth of real-world business experience is particularly crucial in the tech sector, where 42% of executives say their talent lack the necessary business acumen.

“The work MBA is incredibly valuable. It gives people the opportunity to experience different departments and learn new parts of the business. There’s also a healthy pressure to perform which can be very motivating.”



Embrace continuous learning in new forms

As the nature of education continues to evolve, Tony believes we’ll also see more ‘just-in-time’ learning – instant, on-the-job training for particular skills and tasks as the need arises, delivered remotely instead of in a classroom.

These ‘micro-trainings’ are likely just the beginning of the evolution of education. Tony sees opportunities in the merging of virtual and physical worlds and gamification to provide practical new learning experiences.

“Imagine navigating inside of a router and seeing how these devices connect with each other. Perhaps you can make a connection from one device to another, and receive points as a result. But that future has to be both virtual and physical, meeting up with people and taking what you’ve learnt virtually to tackle a problem together in the real world.”

Employers are in a position to support the next generation of IT talent in taking control of their individual education. Providing easy access to training, labs, innovation competitions, and knowledge-sharing through role-based peer communities will encourage staff to self-motivate and take control of their own education.

Tony believes this aspiration for continuous learning is one of the keys to success in the modern workplace.

“My grandfather worked in the same factory for 45 years. Obviously today times are different. Team members are now looking for ways to continuously grow and evolve. I tell my kids before they go to sleep at night, always ask yourself, what did I learn today?”



Support your talent with culture

Building a culture that supports employees to grow, learn and do the right thing is the glue that holds a talent strategy together. People are more attracted to join and stay at a company that provides meaningful, rewarding work and a positive working environment. According to Tony, the “trust gap”, the tendency of younger generations to distrust large organizations, has made strong culture more vital than ever.

Tony contrasts this approach to the tendency of some organizations to try retain staff by “pulling the salary lever.” Proper compensation is important, but trying to buy employee loyalty can often backfire.

“If you’re a company that is only offering your talent salary, rather than purpose, they’ll always go to whichever organization is willing to pay them more. But if you build a culture people are passionate about, they won’t leave for all the money in the world.”

Companies should develop a culture that offers a sense of belonging and meaning, providing recognition and rewards for performance.

“You need to articulate to your team why what they’re doing is important to the overall strategy.

Whether it’s in a supply chain, a support organization, in the field, people need to know the work they’re doing is valuable and that it’s making an impact to the company.”

By allowing candidates to easily compare employee ratings of companies, review sites like Glassdoor have made positive employee experience crucial. In response, companies need to ensure they’re delivering the culture and experience employees need, to net positive reviews and attract top talent.

While it’s possible to shape and refine culture to some degree, it can’t be created out of nothing. Leaders must look for an authentic truth and purpose of their organization, and build on that firm foundation.

Cisco, for example, has always had a cultural motivation to put the customer first and go the extra mile to deliver real business value. The Cisco CX transformation then built on and formalized that foundational culture. As a result, Cisco attracts people who are driven by this goal, and who draw motivation and fulfillment from achieving it.

Building a culture to attract and retain talent doesn’t happen overnight. But with a mindset of continual growth, the right training, and a driving purpose, companies can respond to talent shortages as they arise.

For Tony, this ability to adapt and evolve is the one constant, and the key to lasting success, in the shifting talent landscape.

“I’ve worked at lots of places, from startups to enterprises, and I’ve found that everything is a learning experience, an opportunity to improve. When you have that clear purpose, and you get the right team around you, everything falls into place.”

Find out how to bridge the talent gap at your organization: Learn more

Find out more about Cisco CX: Visit the Cisco CX Hub