This is how Liantis bridges the IT skill gap: buy, build AND borrow

Published on 06/11/2023 in Customer Stories

“Buy, Build, or Borrow?” is the well-known dilemma when it comes to IT talent. Nicolas Van Kerschaver, director of digitization at HR services group Liantis, sees it as an and-and story. "The appropriate attitude is crucial, virtually everything else can be learned," he argues.

This is how Liantis bridges the IT skill gap: buy, build AND borrow

What does the IT component of Liantis look like?

Nicolas: "Liantis is somewhat atypical in that respect. That's why my job title is not CIO, but Director of Digitization. We combine the more technical IT aspect with digital product management at the service of our customers. To this end, we have our own software house with some two hundred employees. The solutions we provide from there are an important distinguishing factor within our services."

"We deploy our people in all activities where they can add value. To put it succinctly: the tasks where it is important to know Liantis inside out, we take care of ourselves. We prefer to leave IT elements that are not part of our core activities to specialized suppliers, such as Proximus NXT. These partners can often exploit economies of scale to perform certain tasks cheaper or better. For certain initiatives, there is also a combined knowledge between our own people and external specialists. The ratio of internal staff to external consultants is 60/40."

Training is not just an employer's responsibility. Those who choose the technology sector must show the will and attitude to sharpen their knowledge.

Nicolas Van Kerschaver, director of digitization at Liantis


How is Liantis experiencing the ʽwar for talent’?

"We find the right profiles relatively easily and quickly. Job vacancies are open - depending on the position - for about four weeks on average. What certainly helps is the stimulating framework. Of course the financial picture plays a role, but for IT professionals you should not underestimate the importance of challenging and technical projects.

Talented employees find their liking with us. I see an IT organization as a team time trial. The main objective for the most talented employees is not to cross the line first. However, they do make sure that the number five also crosses the finish line. When that succeeds, you create an enriching dynamic.”

You also have to make sure the number six and seven can follow. What skill gap does Liantis need to bridge?

"A skill gap can manifest itself in two areas. School-leavers usually do not lack knowledge about current technologies. Moreover, they follow in the slipstream of their experienced colleagues, but may not yet have the desired soft skills. Employees with higher seniority throw in their experience and affinity with the corporate culture. Because of rapidly evolving and time-constrained technologies, a knowledge update may be required.”

What tools does Liantis use to do this?

"We map out the skills and work points of each employee and work with them. Managers are trained on how to guide people in terms of growth and change. We provide access to learning platforms. Mind you, training is not just an employer's responsibility. Those who choose the technology sector must demonstrate the will and attitude to sharpen their knowledge. After all, in such a rapidly changing environment, learning is crucial. Liantis approaches projects as trajectories: people are needed to introduce technologies, but equally to maintain them. That requires different profiles."

Back in 2020, McKinsey indicated in a global study that the skill gap in the field of data is the largest. How do you see that today, as society becomes increasingly digitized? And how do you respond to this with your current employees?

"Data-oriented profiles are scarce, while the demand in the area of data analysis is still constantly increasing. So we cannot focus solely on skilled data scientists. We check internally whether a programmer, for example, also shows the knowledge and willingness to make the switch towards more analytical activities. So with us it's not Buy, Build or Borrow, but a combination of the three aspects. Attitude is central for me, many other skills can be learned."

What critical hard skills are also harder to find?

"Security also counts as a priority. It can take up to six months to fill job vacancies within that field. Basic cybersecurity knowledge needs to reach a higher level in Belgian curricula. In addition, there is a need for specialized security profiles. Cloud is here to stay, which also requires the necessary competencies. Infrastructure courses will lose importance as the as-a-service model continues to gain ground. In addition, we are essentially looking for developers and analysts."

Getting the necessary skills in house is one thing. Retaining them is another task. How does Liantis tackle that?

"As I mentioned, challenges keep people on their toes. We give employees room to take on leadership. We use an agile working method, with feedback and open communication. That sometimes takes some getting used to for new team members, but once you get used to that, you don't want to give it up. Employees who leave Liantis return after a while, partly for this reason. Our corporate culture really does appeal. In doing so, our top talents act as a lever for the rest of the organization."

"We have put a lot of effort, in recent years, into publicizing Liantis as an interesting IT organization, from a technical perspective. Of course, we are not known as a tech company but the scale on which we deal with IT is great."

Liantis also highly values its charter

"The charter defines the corporate culture we are creating to take our organization to the next level. Among other things, it points to continuous improvement, taking responsibility, knowledge sharing, being proactive, open communication and collaboration. This may sound woolly, but it is widely supported by the organization. At meetings, we will always respect those principles as well."

Nicolas Van Kerschaver already held various roles within Liantis. He has been director of digitization for more than two years and was among last year's nominees for CIO of the Year.

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