Status quo

I recently read about up to 125,000 missing specialists in the digital economy and IT-related professions – in Germany alone. If this inconceivable number even approximates reality, it quickly becomes clear to everyone why medium-sized businesses almost inevitably misses digitization. Although there is a shortage of skilled workers in almost every European country, Germany - das digitale Neuland - seems to have its particular difficulties with the situation. The powerless innovation-pressure hurts in this country - it is as if we were not allowed to do what we wanted.

The problems were already apparent at the end of the nineties, when the German economy slept through the new economy. Cause: Political conservatism and clinging to dusty structures.

We have obstructed the digital future for small and medium-sized businesses. One wonders: Is there still light at the end of the fiber?

Problems have to be made transparent

For many digital challenges there are actually tested solutions and a lot of best practice. In my experience, however, the majority of companies (including corporations) based in Germany are in the shadow when it comes to determining the problems required for the application. The problems are not adequately brought to light and addressed.

And it goes on: More complex tasks are misled through continuous mismanagement and ignorance. Billions are burned on the attempt to implement a "modernization agenda" whose foundation is imperfect and whose objectives are questionable. The Federal Government has shown how THE German authorities' digitization project failed due to blind action. This not only costs taxpayers' money, but shows meticulously how digital transformation is lived in Germany and how overwhelmed entrepreneurs and politicians are with the topic.

Skilled worker shortages have to be thought of in a more complex way

Germany is certainly not making good progress in training new talent. The shortage of skilled workers does not only refer to a lack of employees. It is also about the existing employees who are simply not competent or motivated enough to carry out digitization projects. Ignorance, antiquated ideas, a lack of leadership experience and foul networks corrupt the sensible endeavors and unnecessarily maintain the status quo. With considerable consequences:

1.) Companies are vulnerable to a lack of structures and knowledge. Surveys have shown that every eighth German company has been the target of a cyber attack at least once in the past. Industrial espionage and sabotage are particularly damaging to the economy. It is often the soft goals that are easily hit and misused due to a lack of experience. Social hacking at the receptionist is not a technical problem, but it opens the door for criminal activities against the digital infrastructure. Poor IT security can lead to serious problems, especially in times of the GDPR and the associated responsibility for customer data.

2.) The cost of maintaining old infrastructure is substantial. Especially in the public and financial sector and in the ERP (SAP) systems are used that would have to be replaced long ago by more efficient hardware and software. Functioning architectures are reluctant to be broken up, but this has a price especially in development: COBOL developers are dying out and the SAP / ABAB specialists are sometimes twice as expensive as comparable JAVA or .NET developers. Security experts for old buildings are also becoming rare, which poses dangers. And cloud computing is cheaper and greener than ever, and yet so many small and large-scale players are still operating IT-infrastructure in their basements, that regularly conjures smiles on the faces of energy suppliers.

3.) Almost every company knows the needs of its customers and has a clear idea of ​​which innovations are necessary to satisfy them. But: rapid prototyping, market research and agile working methods require an adapted IT infrastructure. If these do not exist, ones development process slows down and the competitor takes care of the problem. Here too, opportunities are wasted, which can only damage the company in the long run.

4.) By systematically looking away from schools and from parents, we educate our children to be media traumatized people, who at max are capable of media and online addiction – no senseful usage of the opportunity given in the digital domain. If we are not able to deliberately deal with media and digitization for ourselves and our children, then they will ultimately fail and despair due to technical progress.

The list of potential damages can be continued as desired.

The HR bottleneck

Studies assume that around 50% of employees in industrialized countries rely on computers to do their jobs - with an average daily usage time of 3.5 hours. This contrasts with 1% of the population who earn their living as software developers. This disproportion shows the enormous need for a serious educational offensive in Germany and all over Europe to attract sufficient numbers of young people. Although there has been a slight upward trend in the number of academic computer scientists for a number of years (and Bavarian politicians in particular are bragging about the numbers), the quality and benefits of training in Germany are at least questionable.

University computer science courses are often too theoretical or aim to ignore reality with the taught content and technologies. At my university, I myself worked on half-hearted SQL statements and JAVA applets, which basically have nothing to do with "real" software development and "real" digital transformation.

We urgently need to free ourselves from the academic approach of teaching only the elementary physiology of computer science. We have to undertake real practical projects in cooperation and with economic support from the economy.
This distance to the "informational craft" begins in schools, where media competence and media creation are not taught properly. The great fear that young people can lose their grip when dealing with digital devices, gaming and social media blocks us to a maximum in the actually necessary examination of the matter. How should a young person become a real hero computer scientist, a software architect or a creator of artificial intelligence if we limit him/her and above all * in the pursuit of their respective interests?

Training and retraining in companies is also not pursued properly and with the necessary interest. The mystification and the associated distancing from IT prevents recruiting from within the company. This makes it all the more expensive to buy what you could have done cheaply in-house.

The bottleneck for HR to hire the top IT professionals has become the eye of the needle!

So, what shall we do against it?

1.) We have to strengthen the networks of schools, colleges, universities and state computer science courses and have them participate with the digital economy. The content must be tailored to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses and the institutions themselves. The independence of teaching is certainly an honorable principle, but can we continue to afford to act like this in the long term? Some idea:

  • Joint research projects (industry, research, management)
  • Exchange (people, shared knowledge databases, excursion)
  • Interinstitutional management boards & mutual seminars
  • Stronger recruitment of foreign specialists
  • Stronger recruitment of foreign high potentials
  • Students' own projects must be demanded and promoted

2.) Companies must be actively involved in the training of specialists. In particular, recruiting in-house is extremely important to optimize operational processes and to stimulate digital transformation in the workforce. Ideas for this:

  • Software development boot camps and training measures for employees
  • Create more training positions
  • Establish cooperation with universities (private and state)
  • Invite external experts, even if they are expensive (assessment, optimization, renovation)
  • At least outsource innovation and development tasks before not doing them
  • Make department changes (towards IT) attractive to employees
  • Make your own location attractive for new and existing employees
  • Initiative and promotion of employees' own projects

3.) Schools and other educational institutions must be strengthened to become even more involved in the training of digital skills. Ideas for this:

  • (Forced) further training of teachers on digitalization topics
  • Align teacher training with the specified needs
  • More focus on general IT, media literacy and IT-related subjects
  • Professional equipment for schools and institutions
  • Experts to schools (seminars, workshops, working groups, project weeks)
  • Systematically dissolve gender stereotypes through suitable educational offers
  • field trips
  • Students' own projects must be demanded and promoted

4.) Associations and initiatives for digital transformation must be systematically supported by industry and the private sector. Some ideas:

  • Support local IT associations (CCC, Female Coders, etc.)
  • Identify, promote and support initiatives
  • Start your own initiatives

5.) Politics has to be particularly motivated to rethink. It is extremely important to deal with the parties, the party programs and the individual politicians (and their personal agenda). Parties and politicians who are conservative against digitalization and its possibilities must be revoked. In my experience, local politicians, local and regional associations and also top politicians and their representatives are represented on social media, are easily accessible and sometimes accessible for input. We can apply gentle to firm pressure here.

Outro

I tried to the best of my knowledge and belief to pool my thoughts on the shortage of skilled workers. I look forward to your assessment of the aforementioned topics and would be happy to include serious ideas and suggestions in the list. I am available for questions and an objective exchange.

I would also like to thank you for the attention and the diverse sharing of this contribution.

Kind regards - André Kirchner
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Photo by Ilya Pavlov