HOW TO APPROACH THE SKILLS GAP
The Talent Void Facing the ‘Smart City’ Revolution
Few cities around the world have grown into fully mature “smart” cities. Many, big and small, are slowly making their way into the smart realm in one way or another, putting sensors on everything from street lights to traffic signals, connecting buildings and connecting cars to municipal wide networks, and in the process, making themselves smart.
In many instances, the early steps toward making a city smart are one-off technology innovations or upgrades. But being smart doesn’t just mean new gadgets. It really means changing the way city agencies operate and learning to balance that against security and privacy concerns, and identifying and planning the next steps and how to achieve those goals.
This digital transformation of cities is not just a cool fad, but is becoming a necessity as the world is undergoing a staggering urbanization at the rate of 10,000 people moving to cities per hour, according to a report from Cisco Systems. Such rapid urbanization leads to challenges not encountered by cities, including traffic congestion, stressed infrastructure and sustainability challenges.
These problems must be solved to thrive in the future. Building the infrastructure needed for a smart city is resulting in a demand for new job roles with new skill sets.
The inevitable arrival of smart cities has enormous potential, yet very little about smart cities is straightforward, including the talent required to make these innovations a reality.
The actual definition of a smart city is amorphous, and can mean anything from a city introducing a new piece of technology to a much broader platform of planned current and future integrations.
One of the greatest obstacles the smart city revolution faces is a strategy to find, attract, train, and retain talented staff. Some experts even estimate the smart city talent gap to be more significant than the cyber security talent gap, which is often touted as the most significant and consequential talent shortage today.
The smart city talent scarcity affects not only the municipalities on their path to becoming smart, but also the businesses that are developing smart city solutions, ranging from autonomous vehicles and smart buildings, to policing drones and water replenishment sewer systems.
Typically, the most aggressively growing smart cities are simultaneously experiencing rapid economic growth. As new technologies are introduced by both public and private sectors, they must integrate to enable delivery of services and to ensure that the economic and technological growth are beneficial to the city as a whole.
This shortage of specialized talent isn’t a domestic problem, either. Smart cities around the world, ranging from the advanced to the fledgling, face a lack of workers with the required skill sets to make the smart vision a reality.
Singapore, for example, a city considered to be at the forefront of the smart movement, finds itself short of nearly 30,000 information technology professionals. And while businesses are attempting new strategies to meet their talent shortages, such as using remote workers from all over the world, the problem has yet to find a solution.
Training programs are playing catch-up. Small and medium-size businesses are hurt the worst as tech giants such as Google have aggressive recruitment practices and attractive packages for in-demand talent.
What is the answer to this seemingly impossible situation?
As in all times of great technological change, old ways of thinking and doing things must be adapted or eliminated to keep pace with changes in society. Think of Gutenberg’s printing press; mass production of books eliminated the relevancy of people who hand-scribed books. The printing press brought with it the ability to mass-produce books, the general population to learn new ideas on their own, and for populist beliefs to spread.
Smart cities have enormous potential, yet little about smart cities is straightforward, including the talent required to make these innovations a reality.
The digital revolution we are in the midst of requires us to shift how we look at the way we educate not only our young people, but also the average worker throughout their potentially 50-year career. Current educational institutions and options cannot accommodate the exponential development of technology. Solutions to the critical skills shortage that threatens our ability to continue innovation may come in many forms, from online and academy schools to free-market education that would improve training for the future workforce.
What about those of us already in the
Orchestrating transformative change on such a massive scale requires more than a company-sponsored training class or an industry certification program. The real need to make smart cities a reality requires a workforce that is innovative, business savvy, analytical, and understands cross-platform solutions.
Making a city smart requires an integrated approach to problem-solving in order to link business, building and services such as utilities, transportation and parking. But many professionals don’t have the experience and are not equipped to tackle such cross-functional responsibilities.
Municipalities and private sector companies alike cannot afford to take passive or traditional solutions such as training programs and public-private partnerships aimed to develop a worker’s coding skills. Instead, a complete shift in how we approach the skills gap requires a “mind shift.”
Generally, we consider work to be functional and results-oriented, but today’s workers need to increasingly look at shifting their careers toward making an impact that is required to make the world go ’round.
No simple solution to this talent gap exists, but as part of the smart city revolution, the importance of human capital must be a key component of the journey as we venture on in the digital revolution.
As cities continue to grow their economies and match that growth in technology, planning must play a key role in that growth. One of the most crucial components of the smart city planning platform must be ensuring that the necessary workforce, with the required and developing skill sets, be available to make smart cities thrive and realize their full potential.
Kathleen Laney, President of Laney Solutions and a Contributing Writer for Parking Today, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Matthew Wallace, President of Wallace Consultants, at email@example.com.