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To put it simply, these days companies want IT people to be able to do everything. “There is a clear demand for highly technical IT profiles,” says Sandra Schuerewegen, CEO of the temporary employment agency Brunel. “But, at the same time, companies expect IT people to have well-developed soft skills as well.” IT people have to have a customer-friendly attitude and be able to cooperate well with one another. “So it’s not just about the employee’s IQ. It’s also about the EQ,” according to Robert De Maere, Telecom Manager at Havenbedrijf Antwerpen. “Consequently as an employer, first of all, the main thing you want to know is what an applicant really has to offer.” And that is not necessarily what it says on a diploma or a CV.
It is a trend that is causing a big shift on the recruitment market. “Companies need specialists to deal with current issues, such as big data and the Internet of Things,” says Jeroen Franssen, Expert Talent & Labor Officer HR Force at Agoria. “Relying exclusively on recruiting on the basis of a specific profile is not a good idea these days. It works better to get an honest picture of a candidate and his potential and then give him/her the comfort of being able to develop further him/herself.” When the company invests in the training and development of its IT people, this is a way of standing out from the competition.
The organization of work is evolving more and more towards dynamic roles, rather than the fixed jobs of the past. “That is why it is important to bring education and the business world as close together as possible,” says Francis Vos, IT department head at the PXL College in Hasselt. “We do this by offering education on the basis of a community concept, in which client-companies are involved. For instance, we have a large project area on the Corda Campus, where students and companies work together on actual projects.
So the students become familiar with the role of a professional at close quarters.” Interaction is important, so that companies pick up new technologies or trends as well. “We continue along this line within the client-company,” says Wim Ravijts, Head of IT Planning & Delivery at AXA Bank and lecturer in project risk management at the EHSAL Management School. “Using reverse monitoring, we let young employees share their experience of new technologies with the somewhat older IT people.” Apart from the role of education, however, client-companies also have to keep on investing in training for their staff. “Anticipating what employees expect of the company is very important here,” says Jeroen Franssen. “People looking for prospects who want to develop their skills further, have to be given the space to do so.”
But is that the right starting point? Do we have to accept that education accounts for roughly 70% of a job profile and that the company itself invests to give the employee the remaining 30%? “I’m not totally convinced of that,” says Wim Ravijts. “As far as education is concerned, Belgium always ranks among the best. When it comes to knowledge, we are well placed. But companies want staff to be creative and entrepreneurial, too.
Perhaps education could pay more attention to that.” After all, creative staff provide solutions not just today, but later on, as well. We notice in various projects that school-leavers do not have the right knowledge to get down to work autonomously. In these cases, we outline a training path to help them make good the disparity with technical courses and on-the-job coaching. We invariably use an IBO program,” says Hilde Boschmans, Chief HR Officer at IT service provider Esas. “When recruiting, the decisive aspect is mainly the candidate’s attitude. If necessary, you can fill gaps in IT knowledge later on,” Boschmans adds. “And even afterwards, it’s still important for employees to keep on honing their knowledge.”
This attitude means that the image of IT people is changing radically. In the past they were often given in-depth technical training. Now they have to be close to the customer, have a thorough insight into the needs of the business and put forward innovative solutions to meet these needs. But in a strained labor market, it’s not exactly easy to find all these qualities in one person. The solution lies in cooperation. “The people on the business side don’t always have much feeling for the possibilities offered by new technology,” says Robert De Maere. “So we organize regular workshops to which we invite staff from other departments – from finance, maintenance, the legal department, etc. – to come and talk about topics like IoT or blockchain. This way, we think about these issues together in an open atmosphere and this contact between business and IT produces new ideas.”
Agoria calculated that there are at least 9,000 unfilled IT vacancies in Belgium at the moment. Companies are constantly investing in IT and computerization. This suggests that the number of vacancies is only going to grow. Since 2012, the number of IT students in higher education has risen sharply, but not enough to meet the demand in the business world. “Perhaps companies should take the initiative more to explain to young children all the things they can do with IT,” says Sandra Schuerewegen.
“We have to encourage young people, show them that they can do a lot of creative work with IT.” By bringing more young people into IT education, companies might find the necessary skills on the labor market more easily later on. “We also stress the importance of the human factor in our course,” says Francis Vos. “The updated technological and scientific courses turn out people who can resolve problems and bring about modernization with technology as the enabler.” Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. It’s not technology that is changing the world, but the people who use this technology.
There is no point in seeking to achieve the impossible, or in demanding that IT people know all there is to know about all technologies and have outstanding social skills as well. Education and the business world are already making an effort to bring supply and demand closer together. The IT world of the future consists of various people in various roles, who find a solution together.
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