SHRM Conference Recap: Solving the Applied Technology Skills Gap

By Alexandra Levit

A few weeks ago, DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board presented a session on the applied technology skills gap at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference in Chicago.

As defined in DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board’s 2017 JPI survey, applied technology skills (ATS) are skills needed by employees to leverage the right technology to do their jobs. When an individual has ATS, they have the ability to integrate people, processes, data, and devices to effectively inform business strategy and plan for and react to unanticipated shifts in direction.

The JPI study confirmed that ATS are on hiring manager’s radars. Nearly 69% of JPI survey respondents agreed with this statement: “When I interview a prospective candidate, the presence of applied technology skills and experience is a competitive differentiator.” And, the desire for leaders to have these skills is even greater – 76 percent of managers who hire senior-level candidates agreed.

Why are ATS so important? As a workforce author and consultant, I believe that it’s helpful for anyone working in business today to leverage technology to sharpen their skills in critical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving, draw inferences from a variety of data sources, and understand overall digital infrastructure and how it can drive process efficiency and improvement.

Bringing ATS On Board

Training employees in these skills, however, can be a bit of a challenge. Also, technology is evolving more quickly than in the past, so skill acquisition can’t happen all at once and must be frequently revisited.

Fortunately, in our recent JPI study, we found that most hiring manager respondents are continuously training and retraining on ATS through internal courses and trainings (78 percent), tuition reimbursement (35 percent) and external courses and trainings (31 percent). Only 25 percent said their organizations are taking no action to develop the ATS skillset.

If we are to reach a critical mass of employees with the right ATS, it’s a good idea to focus on sourcing new hires with these skills and identifying the skills that already exist in our organizations. One of the more obvious sourcing solutions is recruitment collaboration between HR, IT, and business leaders. Social, mobile and cloud technologies can be used to uncover hidden sources of ATS talent, as can three-way matching systems, which combine internal referrals and external sourcing initiatives to create synergies between jobs, candidates and employees.

Hiring managers can also assess a job seeker’s contributions to online communities to validate skill proficiencies and identify specific workers who have the exact skills they need for a particular job.

Assessing and Building Your Arsenal

When it comes to assessing existing employees, hiring managers can analyze the business priorities and the required skills for each strategic position. Consulting with c-suite and IT leaders, they can evaluate if the people in those positions are well-equipped with the right ATS to do their jobs and then conduct a Training Needs Analysis (which measures desired skills against the employee’s level of existing knowledge and determines how much training would be required). These analyses often include components like competency profiles, assessments, interviews, and observation.

The results of the TNA can help hiring managers clarify the skills they have, the ones they need to hire for, and the training required for various groups. Appropriate training plans may then be created, detailing cost, content, type, source, and dates. Training, ideally, is a “all hands on deck” exercise, with employees who already have strong ATS pitching in to help and being rewarded accordingly, business leaders, HR, and IT developing internal ATS curricula, and educational institutions custom-designing external ATS curricula for a particular organization’s needs.

Hiring managers can also encourage participation in massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are developed via partnerships between universities and private companies and often feature topics at the intersection of business and technology. And finally, ATS can be fostered organically through intrapreneurship, or the practice of entrepreneurial strategies within the context of, and leveraging the resources of, an established organization. Well-known intrapreneurial strategies include establishing a committee dedicated to coming up with new tech-based processes, and giving employees an occasional work period to work on tech-based passion projects that will drive the business forward.


About the Author

Alexandra Levit is the chairman of DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board. She is the author of nine published books on careers and the workplace, including the international bestseller They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she has consulted with dozens of organizations around the world about issues facing modern institutions and their employees.


1 Career Advisory Board (2018),, 2017 Job Preparedness Indicator Study, accessed on the Internet at (July 13, 2018).