By James A. Martin

Throughout 2019, expect to see a continuing tight labor market, with low unemployment and rising wages. The net effect for businesses? As in previous years, workers with strong technology skills are in demand, tough to recruit, and potentially difficult to retain. According to the second annual Future of Work survey from the Consumer Technology Association, 92 percent of respondents said they’ll need more workers with technical skills in the near future, while 74 percent said that finding those workers will be harder.

Among other challenges, the difficulty in attracting and retaining workers with desired tech skills can pose risks to your organization’s ability to be resilient. If you can’t adequately staff your cybersecurity team, for instance, threats that might otherwise have been identified and blocked might fall through the cracks.

To help you identify near-term or future gaps in your workforce, Sungard AS thought leaders weigh in on the technology areas where skills will be most highly sought-after in 2019 and beyond.

1. Cybersecurity

The global shortage of cybersecurity professionals is estimated to be just under 3 million as of late 2018, according to research from (ISC)², a nonprofit association for information security leaders. Consequently, 63 percent of respondents said their organizations have a shortage of cybersecurity-focused IT staffers and 60 percent believe their companies are at moderate-to-extreme risk of attacks due to the shortage.

Cybersecurity engineers will continue to be in high demand in 2019 and beyond, notes Mitch Kavalsky, Director, Security Governance and Risk. “Being able to design secure systems, analyze existing environments to better secure them, and examine network traffic and forensic data will be of the utmost importance regardless of the technologies -- such as the cloud -- that are implemented.”

Kavalsky adds that cybersecurity skills specific to the Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to be in short supply, as this is a more recent, “hot” technology. His advice: Concentrate less on hiring cybersecurity experts with deep expertise in specific technologies and more on finding well-rounded, educated security workers who can shift focus and direction as required.

Cybersecurity is everyone’s job in the IT department, adds Bob Peterson, CTO Architect. “There’s still a shortage of good security practitioners in the field, and adoption of the public cloud is really muddying the waters for many organizations. And so, in today’s technology landscape, security has to be a key component of everyone’s job. There needs to be more of a push to drive cybersecurity fundamentals into different IT roles. The role of the security team needs to be to set standards, educate and monitor. They can’t do it all themselves.”

Expertise in cybersecurity risk assessments will continue to be important, says Tom Holloway, Principal Consultant, Business Resilience. “With so many interrelated applications and systems working together in the typical business environment, and many of those running on dated legacy infrastructures, there’s a real need to conduct robust cyber risk assessments to ensure that attack vectors are closed down and that security is as tight as it needs to be.”

Because access to data is power, there are more than enough criminal hackers who want to capture an enterprise’s data to either hold it for ransom or sell it for huge monetary gains, observes Kaushik Ray, SVP, Global Client Service Management. “But it’s very challenging today to find people who know how to effectively detect an attack, protect against an attack vector and do the forensics required to understand when some malware entered the system and has been getting at the data. The demand for such people outweighs the supply.”

2. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)

Spending on AI and ML will increase from $12 billion in 2017 to $57 billion by 2021, according to research firm IDC, while Deloitte Global estimates the number of ML pilots and implementations will double from 2018 to 2020. Given those trends, AI and ML will be a critical skillset to have for most enterprises, says Sue Clark, Senior CTO Architect.

The potential of data analytics and ML to help businesses is limitless, whether it’s reducing waste during production, increasing cost efficiencies or conducting pattern-based statistical analysis of a problem, adds Ray.

The rise in AI and ML as well as IoT will create demand for professionals with strong knowledge in how to harness data and bridge business needs with data science, notes Kiran Chitturi, CTO Architect.

“ML will soon become like anti-lock braking systems in cars, which initially were a big-deal headline and now they’re just expected as part of a modern automobile,” predicts Todd Loeppke, Team Lead, CTO Architect.

3. Cloud-first and serverless architectures

Cloud computing has evolved from its “self-centered teenage years” to become a “turbocharged engine powering digital transformation around the world,” research firm Forrester concludes. In 2019, Forrester analysts believe the cloud will reach “its more interesting young adult years, bringing innovative development services to enterprise apps rather than just serving up cheaper, temporary servers and storage.”

“For the last couple of years, ‘cloud-first’ IT environments gained momentum as companies looked to the public cloud to accelerate time-to-market,” adds Loeppke. “In 2019 and beyond, the next step will be ‘serverless-first’ architectures. During the initial stages of a project, companies will be increasingly asking how to deploy a service/solution using a serverless architecture in the public cloud. Their goal is to reduce computing cost and transition from traditional IT operations to fully embrace a DevOps model. For many organizations, serverless and microservice architectures aren’t possible with a traditional IT approach, so serverless architectures will start pulling the DevOps rope throughout an organization.”

Public cloud infrastructures from Amazon, Microsoft and Google will continue to grow in popularity with businesses because of the flexibility, scalability and lower costs such environments offer, notes Peterson. As a result, many of the traditional IT roles such as architects, operations, developers and cybersecurity will need to become more cloud-centric going forward.

Can’t find the talent you need? Train the staff you have

As businesses increase their dependence upon cybersecurity, AI and ML, and the cloud, the market for skilled, talented professionals in those areas will likely become even more competitive—which can hinder your efforts to be resilient against cybersecurity risks as well as new competitive threats. As a result, seek out current employees who are interested in or are already dabbling in these areas, Loeppke advises. Fund the training and conferences they need to accelerate their knowledge and skills.

James A. Martin has written about security and other technology topics for CIO, CSO, Computerworld, PC World, and others.

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