Closing the channel skills gap

Closing the channel skills gap

Filling critical skill gaps is a top priority for HR and IT business leaders in the enterprise and channel sector, but the build-and-buy tactics used so far have been insufficient. Industry experts share insights on how channel leaders can close the widening skills gap in the IT labour market.

The tech talent shortage has solution providers and resellers in the channel scrambling to ensure that workforce brush up on the latest skills and technologies that facilitate business agility. Among the domains in the highest demand: cloud computing, Machine Learning, data science, software engineering and cybersecurity.

Research firm Gartner says the critical IT skills shortage being felt across the globe is expected to abate by the end of 2023 when the corporate drive to complete digital transformations slows down and there has been time for upskilling and reskilling of existing staff. However, Gartner stated that in the near term, CIOs will be forced to take action to balance increased IT demand and dwindling IT staffing levels.

According to Gartner, the IT labour market continues to tighten, making it difficult to attract and retain talent. The Gartner Global Labour Market Survey of nearly 18,000 employees in the first quarter of 2022 showed compensation is the number one driver for IT talent attraction and retention. Technology service providers are increasing prices on IT to allow for competitive salaries. This is driving an increase in spending in software and services through 2022 and 2023. As a result, worldwide software spending is expected to grow 9.6% to US$806.8 billion in 2022 and global spending on IT services is forecast to reach US$1.3 trillion.

Maya Zakhour, Director Channel Sales – Eastern Europe, META, Iberia and Latin America, NetApp, said: “Resellers at NetApp are actively building the next generation of channel leaders by building their capabilities and skills and continuously enabling their teams, which is essentially creating a pool of resources possessing different skillsets ready to join. “We have some resellers who work with us on advanced solutions selling various partner training schemes which is an enablement programme that includes different levels of selling – not limited to specific technology, but also includes specific specialisations. Gaining specialisations helps the individual grow their skills to be ready for moving or upgrading their career move – either internally, or from reseller to distributor and eventually, vendor,” she said.

Prashant Menon, Channel Manager – UAE, Check Point Software Technologies, Middle East, said: “Businesses that implement an effective, efficient and business-focused strategy significantly outperform their peers. This is something very symbolic to strategic resellers. They are keen on bringing a future-focused workforce perspective, flexibly and rapidly developing workforce skills and capabilities to match emerging opportunities. This also must be backed by vendors in the true sense as part of the responsibility lies with them.” Menon said the channel leaders from the vendor community are also improvising on their social skills for reaching out to resellers, use online channels to enable, guide and grow their reseller business and thus help them in the pursuit. “Check Point Software has a strong enablement, training and certification programme for resellers to acquire the necessary skill sets to address the modern cybersecurity challenges faced by organisations which is extensively leveraged by our channel partners” he said. According to Zakhour, resellers need to firstly provide an environment that entitles individuals to have time to learn and develop or build their skills. “Some resellers hire individuals with the expectation that they meet and exceed their specific goals; generating revenue is important, but if your individuals are not ready and have the capabilities and the confidence of selling a specific solution it would be a futile effort and would result in no achievement. At the core is skills development and encouraging the culture of learning,” she said.

The tech talent squeeze in the channel means resellers must build deep leadership benches. In an environment where IT talent is scarce, integrating partner training and certifications into an employee’s career path can be tricky given the high levels of staff poaching in the IT channel.

Vlad Postelnicu, Director Alliances and Strategic Partnerships, Software AG, said there are many partner organisations that can cover many different technologies provided by a variety of software vendors. Postelnicu said customers are looking at IT implementations that are very focused and specialised. “It is no longer a market where customers are buying for the sake of a ‘buzzword’ such as IoT or AI but buying to fit a purpose of the digital projects that actually upscale their overall business. Therefore, instead of scrambling to get trained and certified across the board, resellers must aim to become specialists” he said.

Postelnicu said Software AG works closely with resellers and its professional services teams to enhance those skills and capabilities and convert some of the resellers into Software AG partners as a part of the company’s proprietary programmes based on changing customer requirements. “Again, it is important to realise that the ‘jack of all trades’ approach is redundant in the present market where expertise plays a vital role in upscaling businesses and enterprises even for resellers and partners,” he noted.

Zakhour said the tech talent squeeze is real, and it has intensified over the years as more vendors and distributors vie to hire the same highly skilled individuals.

“My advice to resellers would be to avoid investing on just one resource who has the required technical expertise, and instead focus on training and skilling more individuals within the organisation to create a more balanced environment with lots of technical capabilities. Technology is evolving at a dizzying pace, and so is the need to maintain and update skills and acquire new capabilities. If resellers have a proper team and allocate the right time, and foster the right culture and environment, they will end up having a team with different specialisations and being able to scale,” she said.

While it is undeniable that the dire skills shortages are impacting the channel sector collectively, industry pundits have long argued about who should oversee upskilling, reskilling, and training channel talent.

Michael Wilson, Senior Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa Channel, VMware, said: “In theory, I believe it comes down to everybody [reseller, distributor and vendor], including the individual. Some of the best people I see in the industry today are hungry to learn more. They understand what they enjoy and go and learn everything they can about it. Those are the true successes in a world defined by an abundance of technology, growth, and innovation. In an organisation, vendors and distributors should support channel talent on their journey. It’s a breath of fresh air when as a vendor, you meet people within your partner base that want to learn more about your product – it immediately endears me to want to help fund their learning journey. Conversely, individuals also need to take responsibility for their learning and push for it.”

NetApp’s Zakhour reiterated that the value of obtaining vendor certification is immense. “We call it a vendor specialisation and by being a specialist, partners are creating their key differentiators and building advantages. Specialisation is important because it helps the partner to grow its market share, increase their confidence in delivering not just solutions, but also vendor services, and have happy customers,” she said.

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