Graham Hunter, VP of Skills Certification, CompTIA

IT Managers are More Essential Than Ever Before 

Online learning and teaching didn’t originate from the COVID-19 pandemic; it was already a legitimate industry, with many people occupying online teaching and learning roles effectively for years. However, the pandemic has highlighted the dramatic gap between those who were already capable of thriving in digital spaces and those who weren’t. More widely, the pandemic cast a harsh light on the spaces in society that have not kept up-to-date with digital transformation, illuminating the need for broad adoption of digital skills. 

Widespread IT skills acquisition is the kind of target every organisation should be aspiring to hit, particularly at a time when so many are relying on digital spaces. What was once required only of IT workers is increasingly becoming expected of all workers: from healthcare professionals to university educators, students, marketers, and everyone in between. Now more than ever, it’s essential that higher education’s frontline tech roles – particularly IT managers – are equipped to deal with digital transformation. With everyone being asked to have a greater degree of digital competency, IT managers are now held to a particularly high standard. 

The dangers of a lack of IT skills

Having a weak front-line IT presence can have drastic implications. Last year, we all saw UK institutions grapple over the decision of whether or not they were equipped to deliver instruction online, with many opting to stick to their in-person comfort zones, despite the risks to health this decision posed. 

In reality, while many UK higher education professionals are global leaders in online education, a larger number of institutions were unprepared for the shift. A lack of preparation was a key factor at play here. As digital spaces and technology evolve rapidly, so too does the need for continuous training and learning at every level, and higher education is in no way exempt from this need.  IT managers must be ahead of the game, ready to assist both those who have a more limited knowledge of tech and those who are ahead of the curve. 

None of us know what will happen in the future and when we may be in a similar scenario again, relying on technology to keep our communities safe, or even to keep us alive. Being well=versed enough to participate in digital workspaces is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Although an end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, it is essential that IT teams and managers are prepared for any possible future crises. 

Accelerating the digital shift

In 2019, around 70% of the broader UK workforce was said to be on track to work remotely for at least five days a month by 2025. Come 2020, this prediction went out of the window. In the span of just a few months, huge numbers of people were working remotely, and this isn’t set to change any time soon. Many companies are now offering permanent work from home arrangements; 74% of CFOs, in fact, will move at least 5% of their previous on-site workforce to permanently remote positions once the pandemic is over. Although 5% may not seem like a lot, the implications of this shift for the digital economy are remarkable.  

Asking people to work, teach or learn remotely is relatively easy (“Here’s a link and a login, now go!”). Ensuring that these people are competent and thriving in these remote spaces, though, is much more complex, and requires us all to adjust our thinking about skills acquisition, from seeing it as a one-time thing to a more ongoing pursuit. IT managers, of course, need to be several steps ahead of everyone else in an organisation in terms of tech knowledge and adaptability. 

 The rise of the T-shaped worker

Individuals entering the workplace in 2021 and beyond may feel uncertain about their prospects; not only is the job market challenging, but the economy has taken a hit. The ability to differentiate oneself from the competition, then, is even more important for landing a job, and one aspect of this is having the skills required in a world of remote work. Prospective employees are now expected to possess a broad range of skills that allow them to deal with any situation. Enter the ‘T-shaped’ worker. 

The T-shaped worker, as described in Forbes, has an array of skills that can be applied to a range of scenarios, but also has more specialised abilities that are in demand in a particular team, environment or sector. For instance, a Networking Manager who has a “full stack” skillset and can cope with technical support as well as system maintenance and managing general installations, btu who also has expertise in cloud architecture, may be of greater value to employers.  

Helping people become “T-shaped”

From an IT perspective, we want people at all levels to have strong IT skills, but also be able to adapt and learn, thriving in remote spaces. What’s more, with the mass digital migration taking place and the inherent risks that come from this shift, we want people to be comfortable with and able to work securely in Cloud environments (our Cloud+ certification lets IT professionals grow and prove their ability in this area, particularly at a time when some 80% of companies have experienced a cloud-based data breach in the past 18 months).

Certifications offer the kind of ongoing validation and training that IT managers and teams need to be competitive. Continuous, industry-created certifications are a tried-and-tested means to help people become more “T-shaped”. Investing in IT training should be a part of every institution’s strategy, and the disruption to the workplace and universities only makes the flexible, fast-track paths certifications offer more attractive. 

We should all be carefully considering our personal and professional growth, as well as the value of growing our IT knowledge incrementally with certifications. IT skills, once seen as being exclusive to IT roles, are becoming indispensable across the workforce. Regardless of what the coming months bring, it’s crucial that IT workers consider enhancing their capabilities to encompass a broad range of digital skills, helping them deal with any scenario with agility and confidence.

Graham Hunter, VP of Skills Certification, CompTIA

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