5 signs your staff's skills are depreciating and what you can do about it

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You’ve probably heard the phrase, “tech skills have a two-year half life.” It’s an idea we’ve embraced—and you should too. All technology depreciates as it gets older—from laptops and servers to code and information frameworks. And that means most tech experts need to replace or refresh about half of their skills every two years to stay current.

We may look back fondly at projects created in ancient coding languages like Visual Basic and Pascal, but very few of us have any desire to create something new with them. Rather, we happily embrace new ideas and frameworks that solve problems faster and more elegantly. Who wouldn’t?

But as it turns out, a lot of organizations aren’t in any hurry to embrace new technologies. That’s not a criticism—it’s just reality. They may not be running critical systems with obsolete technology, but they’re several releases behind in upgrading equipment and code. Many of these organizations take a “wait and see” approach to upgrades. What they have works and they prefer to see where newer technology is headed before committing to it. But often, the real reason companies don’t embrace new technologies is because they don’t have the right learning culture or resources in place to facilitate these shifts.

As the pace of technology change accelerates, some of these organizations fall behind. They hire the right people for yesterday’s technology, then slowly lose their way as old skills fail to support new devices, frameworks and code. Believe it or not, this isn’t an isolated problem. More than half of the companies surveyed in Salesforce’s State of IT Report said they were facing a skills gap in data engineering, IT security and app development.

Keeping an eye on skills depreciation

So what signs can you watch for to determine if your organization is suffering from skills depreciation? And what can you do to make sure your team’s skills stay up to date? Here are a few things that may be happening in your organization to could indicate you are headed for trouble:

1. You don’t have a tech-focused training program.

This seems obvious, but for too many companies, up-to-date technology training isn’t a priority. But all technologies have a limited shelf life. And that means if you’re not constantly helping employees add new skills and stay up-to-date with changes with existing technologies, your organization will eventually fall behind—even if employees are engaged and excited about their projects.

2. Your employees aren’t “headhunted” by other organizations.

Most managers aren’t happy when their employees are contacted by other companies regarding new job opportunities. After all, they don’t want to lose good people. But if your employees aren’t contacted at least occasionally, it may be that they don’t have the skills that other organizations are looking for or the skills you need them to have to be competitive in the future.

3. Your technical equipment and workforce is aging.

New equipment and software requires more current skills to maintain and run. If you rely on old devices and software, your team’s skills may be depreciating. Similarly, if your workforce is older and you don’t offer a training program, this can be a signal that skills are depreciating.

However, I’m not saying that older employees can’t or don’t have up-to-date skill sets. In fact, your older tech employees’ experience and knowledge can be a real competitive advantage when their skills are current. But if you don’t provide access to training and your systems are more than a couple of updates behind, you need to be careful.

4. Different groups within your organization are hiring tech specialists or spinning up their own dev teams.

If your dedicated technology team falls back on older solutions because that’s what they’re comfortable with, others in your organization may begin pushing for other options like hiring their own DevOps employees to get things done. This is a red flag that skill development needs to be a higher priority.

5. IT work quality is suffering.

When virtually every project takes longer than estimates say they should and employees blame slow equipment or broken processes, you likely have a problem. If you see an increase in bugs or code debt that slows down critical applications and you worry about security and scalability, it’s time to address depreciating skills.

Here’s how to keep your organization’s skills current

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to improve your team’s skills and begin to create a culture that values learning. It starts with providing a training program for your IT and development teams that is focused on the skills your organization needs to support changing technologies.

Ironically, new technologies have changed the way teams can learn and stay relevant. On-demand online training means your team can get answers to questions as they come up—no need to wait for the week-long training seminar next fall. Training happens on the job as soon as it’s needed.

Often the best training programs pair new learners with mentors who can help guide their efforts and answer specific questions that may not be addressed in training programs. A mentor can help push an employee out of their comfort zone and try new approaches they wouldn’t consider on their own.

Once your training program is in place, you may want to experiment with new technologies on non-critical projects to help employees learn. This is especially important for developing technologies that will become important to your organization’s future success. Help them develop these skills now, before the need becomes critical.

Lastly, keep an eye on what the futurists are saying. This can be a difficult thing for many organizations to do, which is why we make it easy. We’ve got several technology specialists (with decades of experience) whose only job is to watch for new trends, ideas and best practices, then predict the technologies that will make them possible—and a lot of this information lives right here on our blog or in our resource center. So, before you let your team’s skills depreciate, take these proactive steps to keep them current. We’ll be here if you need a hand.

Help your team make time to train with our guide: 3 ways to make time for learning


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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.