The CEO's dilemma: keeping up with technological change


CEOs and other “C” level leaders have a lot on their plates. They’re responsible for everything from creating new revenue streams and reducing costs to product development and data security. With so many critical initiatives competing for their attention, care to take a guess about the #1 thing your CEO is worried about?

It may surprise you. But it shouldn’t.

Recently, consulting firm PWC asked 1,409 CEOs from a range of industries about the threats they worry about most. The top challenge for 80% of tech company CEOs is finding and retaining people with the right skillsets to deliver future growth.

For these forward-looking leaders, recruiting talented employees is more crucial than fighting off cyber threats or competing with new market entrants.

And that number is way up from just 58% in 2010.

But why?

Today’s CEOS are worried about a growing skills gap in their organizations because the pace of technological change is accelerating. Within the next decade, experts predict 77% of jobs will require some technology skills. And advances in new technologies like big data, artificial intelligence, containerization and robotics are coming so fast that technology teams are struggling to keep up. And it’s not just cutting-edge technology that is changing. Long-standing programming languages like Java and ASP.NET are being rewritten in fundamental ways to take advantage of new ideas and frameworks.

Finding smart employees who have the skills to work with these new and updated technologies is a massive challenge. New technologies require new skills that schools don’t yet teach. And workers who already have these skills are highly valued by the organizations where they work today.

It’s no wonder that four out of five CEOs have the skills gap at the top of their threat list.

So what can we do about it?

Identifying the skills gap

Measuring and correcting a skills gap presents a big challenge. It starts with an honest evaluation of the skills your organization has at critical positions today. Is each of your employees an expert, proficient or do they have just basic knowledge of the critical skills you need to move forward?

What about the technologies you expect to upgrade, adopt or implement over the next three to five years? How will the coming changes impact your business? What do you need to know and do to keep up or get ahead? And importantly, what new skills do you need to develop to maximize the changes you plan to make?

As you consider potential changes, it may be helpful to evaluate gaps in both the short-term (one year or less) and long-term (three years or more) to identify critical skills your organization needs to acquire immediately, as well as those you can take a little more time to develop.


Ask yourself these questions:

  • Which products or services do we need to support with our technology?
  • Which technologies and skills do we use today to accomplish this?
  • How will our current technology stack change in the future?
  • Are there new technologies we need to adopt to accomplish our goals?
  • Do we currently have the skills needed to support these technologies or do we need to hire new?
  • Are there new technologies our competitors are adopting or developing that we need to keep an eye on?
  • Which skills do we need to add? Do they currently exist? Where?
  • How can we use training to support current technologies and new skill development?

To help you answer these questions, some learning solutions offer assessments or tests that help you identify deficiencies in a scalable way. At Pluralsight, we’re launching adaptive skill measurements that give an accurate representation of skill level in less than 5 minutes.

Closing the skills gap

Once you understand the gap, it’s time to close it. The most effective plans for improving skills will include a combination of hiring, training and providing work-related benefits to increase retention.

Many organizations default to hiring talent with the skills they need. And while you can add great employees to your team this way, it can be an expensive approach. Remember, schools aren’t teaching new skills to students and most potential hires who have rare skills are well-paid for their knowledge. Luring them away will take more than free lunches and nap pods.

In addition to hiring, intelligent organizations use training to add skills. They view training as a “must-have” rather than a “nice-to-have.” To make training an effective part of your skills development plan, identify the outcomes your organization needs to achieve. Then find the resources to deliver those outcomes. And as employees are learning, track performance.

But be careful. You can’t just hand over a training program to your human resource department and hope for the best. Training budgets managed on the organizational level, rather than where your skills gap is greatest, don’t deliver results. Leaders need to determine exactly which skills their training budgets need to address, then find cost-effective options to close the gaps. Company leadership needs to facilitate a culture of learning and empower their teams with hands-off resources that can address specific skills deficiencies at the exact time they matter.

And, it’s helpful if the company enables peer-to-peer mentoring or gives access to on-demand help for when employees get stuck on a project or don’t understand a learning topic.

Perhaps the most important part of your plan to skill up is retention. It makes no sense to hire new employees and provide training to your existing workforce only to see them leave for greener pastures elsewhere. Consider adding benefits to help employees do their best work in ways that fit their lifestyle choices. Allowing skilled employees to work flexible schedules or to connect with their teams from remote locations sends a powerful message that your organization values their contribution and is willing to work with them to get their best work. Highly skilled employees are drawn to companies that help them develop those skills with options like online training, coaching and mentoring, personal project time and project opportunities that help employees add new skills.

Massive technology changes are underway. They may already be affecting your industry. But with focused attention on meaningful skills development, your organization will have the skills you need to stay ahead of the changes.

Get the guide: 5 proven ways to motivate and retain your technology team



Aaron Skonnard

Aaron Skonnard is the CEO of Pluralsight (NASDAQ: PS), a fast-growing enterprise technology learning platform. Aaron cofounded Pluralsight in 2004 and has since grown the company to more than 1,000 employees and 1,500 expert authors. As CEO, Aaron focuses on business strategy, future direction, product development and strategic partnerships. On a day-to-day basis, he works closely with the entire executive team in different capacities, including recruiting, brand management, marketing, sales, feature planning and content acquisition.