How to Close the Computer Repair Technician Skills Gap

skills

“Study Says Most IT Guys Are Ignorant.” That’s the title of a new post from the Wired Magazine website penned by Caleb Garling. It’s the first thing that caught my eye in my RSS feeds this morning and for good reason. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that IT guys are outright ignorant, I will admit that the study referenced from CompTIA has points we need to be mindful of as computer repair technicians ourselves.

The study was conducted by CompTIA across a spread of 500 IT and business managers. According to the numbers, only 56% of those surveyed believe that their IT staff’s skills are “moderately close” to where they should be. Even worse, a whopping 93% of the same crowd admit that there is a clear gap between the skills that their staff should have and those which they want to have. Those are some glaring numbers any way you look at them. But let’s be mindful that the target respondents of the original study were those involved in enterprise level IT – a slightly different realm than what the residential and small business technician has to deal with.

However, I wouldn’t dismiss the overarching notion realized in the above study. There’s a skills gap in the IT world that most definitely extends to computer repair technicians such as ourselves. “There are so many new variables entered into the equation today — cloud computing, mobility, the trend towards bringing your own device,” Vice President of Research at CompTIA, Tim Herbert, told Wired Magazine. “When you add those in, there is definitely concern that IT staff is still catching up.”

The million dollar question here still stands: how do we close this skills gap? Everyone likely has a different solution. Some may say that technicians need to become more self educated. Others would argue that technicians should perhaps take on a mentor to help them in unknown territory. My professional opinion is that every tech needs to find his or her own way of tackling this problem, and honing a plan of attack based upon individual needs. There is no cookie cutter solution to such a broad standing issue.

Here are my top tips to lead you in the right direction:

Consider teaming with a technology mentor or local industry expert
No one is an expert in everything. It’s as simple as it gets. As computer repair technicians, we need to know when it’s necessary to call for help and get insight from a knowledgeable third party. I did just this when I was looking to expand my company’s presence in web design. I sought help from a friend in the industry who happened to jump on as a full time staff member, and has been not only providing quality work for customers, but has been educating me in the aspects of web development that I’m wary of. The better technician is not the one who falsely claims that he/she is superior in all niches of technology; it’s the tech that knows how and where to find assistance when needed.

Take advantage of free online training resources
The web is full of so many outlets that offer training at no charge, it’s almost hard NOT to stumble upon such resources. One of my favorite resources for a range of business and technology topics happens to be Lynda.com. While a good majority of the content is locked as paid-access only, there are countless items that can be viewed for free which covers topics ranging from Office 2010 to the full range of Adobe products, down to advanced coding platforms and many others. The featured Wired article above happened to highlight a great resource for novice coders called Codecademy. Hours upon hours of free coding help and insight with nothing more needed than a laptop and an internet connection. These aren’t the only places available. A simple Google search for “free online computer training” yields a staggering 18 million results. I’m sure there is something for every technician out there.

Consider targeted IT certifications specific to your desired knowledge area
I wrote a previous article on why IT certifications still matter for our industry, but I’m not going to rehash that discussion. Rather, I’d ask you to make your own informed decision as to whether the route of educating yourself in a topic and then testing on it makes sense. For many technicians, this is too much of a time commitment or the cost is too great. I can easily see both sides of the argument, but at the end of the day, I still believe IT certifications can not only properly hone your knowledge in a facet of technology, they can give you hands on real world experience if paired with a proper training program. Community colleges are a great place to look if you want to go down this path. My local community college, for example, charges under $250 for a full semester course in CompTIA or Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist training – this would have EASILY cost over $1500 at any third party IT training center. Seek out what you wish to learn, find a well priced training program built around it, and force yourself to ride the entire trip out until you pass the test. My company FireLogic covers half the cost of any pertinent certification test as long as a tech can prove that they passed the exam. Check if your employer offers a similar incentive program.

Offer to work as an intern for a local technology company
The economy may be picking up, but companies are ALWAYS eager to bring on interns. For the employer, it’s free or cheap labor. But best of all – the intern gets to learn the ins and outs of an industry that may be otherwise difficult to get into and requires deep experience to become proficient in. While the established folk reading this may consider this a bit absurd, the younger techs are still in prime position to take advantage of such work. Don’t be afraid to ask around: even companies that aren’t advertising intern positions will listen when you bring up the topic on your own behalf. Offer to provide support to a full timer that may be behind on projects or just generally needs a second hand to effectively tackle a big workload. Anything to give you the hands on experience and resume fluff is 100% worth it. This goes for any niche in IT as well. Residential, small business, mid-size business – these are all sectors of the industry that are on the prowl for cheap help, and this equates to free hands on experience for you as the budding technician.

There are likely dozens of other ways to get your skills up to where they should be, but I’m only skimming the surface. Remember that there is no one size fits all for the computer repair technician. What works for you may not necessarily work for the next person down the line. Get your feet wet and give some things a try until you can find something that sticks and works for you. The computer repair industry is changing at a record pace, and it’s up to YOU to ensure you have the skills necessary to continue moving forward.

If you have suggestions on you’ve tackled a similar situation, feel free to share it with everyone in the comments section below.



Derrick Wlodarz

About the Author

Derrick Wlodarz
More articles by me...
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist that owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over 8+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him directly at derrick@wlodarz.net.

Comments (14)

  • Andrew Moyler says:

    Interesting article Derrick with some good suggestions – thanks.

    I’m sure CompTIA doesn’t have an agenda for pushing the “skills gap”. I took the A+ in 2001 and the questions were way out of step real world situations experienced by an “average tech” in the home/small business arena and tended to concentrate on knowing CAT5 cable lengths, IRQ interrupts etc. Apart from “knowing” a broad range of technical terms – not particularly helpful. Did help me get first job in IT though. Microsoft’s MSCDST was a bit closer to real life and was certainly better constructed.

    As you mentioned, it’s impossible to know everything and I’m still learning new stuff every day. Nowadays the skill is choosing and being able to use the right tools for the job in hand. Being aware of what it is doing to the system and having the knowledge to make adjustments. Sites like Technibble, Podnutz and Tomshardware are always useful and informative.

    These skills are something that I doubt many exams would be able to objectively measure.

  • proserven says:

    OMG CompTIA is coming with another certification….

  • Phillip Smith says:

    Great article! I work in the Enterprise IT world and the one thing I see so much of is that unless it is on the job training ( learning because your group or department is upgrading/changing/retooling ) people just do not keep up their skill set unless the company pays for it and there are so many companies that do not.

    I have been working in this industry for over 15 years and I have to stop sometimes and look at the technology for my job and decide if I need to upgrade my skill set and a lot of times I am behind the curve due to my work load and family life so it is a fine line.
    I will be checking out Lynda.com …. thanks for that info :-)

  • Josh says:

    Lets see..certs full of trivia questions causing a serious lack of technical questions on interviews…can’t imagine why there is a skill gap.

  • Dond says:

    Don’t the techs find that having a A+ cert helps with making the customer more at ease that you are qualified.

  • Dale Powell says:

    I agree with Andrew above, my CompTIA test for A+ did not include real world situations, and mostly concentrated on book knowledge that might be great for Jeopardy but not for my customer. But one observation I see in common with most Computer Techs is that they lack electronic experience. My background as an Electronic Technician in the Navy gave me a big edge in the Computer Repair world. And not just in knowing how to solder and use test equipment, but in developing shrewd troubleshooting skills and habits.

    I see far too many computer technicians that give up too easily and tell the customer that they need to reformat the drive, that their motherboard is bad, or that they should just buy another computer. While I know watching your bottom line and time spent on each repair might prompt you to cut your losses and move on to an easier solution, I know that most customers would like to get their computers back with all their programs, data and customizations intact.

    If technicians were allowed to spend more time on finding solutions to seemingly impossible problems before they gave in, they would be surprised at the new skills and confidence they can put under their belt. But of course, you need to be in tune with your customer to know just how far you can go on their time dime (not to mention your bosses’). Anyway, I’m not talking about taking 2 weeks to do a repair, just what I call a usual 2-3 day turn-around for an in-shop repair. But of course if this is a business customer, they will probably want it back online asap.

    Anyway, the ROI on this approach is well worth the initial frustration of holding off on running a System Recovery just because you couldn’t figure out how to debug a problem within an hour. It will save you time in the long run and your customers will begin to see what sets you apart from the never-ending, seemingly dime-a-dozen computer technicians out there.

    • Mike Tanis says:

      Dale, I also got my start with Navy Electronics training. You are absolutely correct on about the importance of basic Electronics theory and training. Of course in my day it was as much electro-mechanics but that also was very valuable training. But perhaps the biggest advantage to my time in the Marine Corps was working in large shops with plenty of technicians where I could watch and learn from those who went before me. I think the average Technibble reader would be well-served by seeking out professional relationships where they can mentor and be mentored by others. Sometimes being the Lone Ranger just isn’t any fun.

      -Mike Tanis

  • sys-eng says:

    “A simple Google search for “free online computer training” yields a staggering 18 million results. I’m sure there is something for every technician out there.”

    Good article except for the Google search results reference. This is Technibble. Most of the readers here have outgrown fascination with Google search results. Google makes a lot of money but their search results has become more of a game than somehting useful.

  • Mike Smith says:

    The report is no different than it would have been 10 years ago, only the buzzwords have changed. Instead of mobile, it would have read “Palm”, instead of cloud it would have read “off-site” or “hosted”. While tech does move faster than the typical IT dept, it’s more important to note that budgets fall behind the curve even faster.
    Further, the report fails to consider the current economic situation with lower salaries and fewer jobs, and notably smaller budgets.

    Overall, it’s a puff piece designed to keep certifications relevant in the minds of IT Budget decision makers.

    That said below is a great resource.

    ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, delivers resources that advance computing as a science and a profession.

    99 bucks a year for the Professional Membership and among the many benefits are:
    Over 4,500 online multilanguage courses plus 1,100 virtual labs
    Online Books from Safari® Books Online and Books24x7®
    Learning Paths in Ruby, as well as podcasts of interviews with many of today’s innovators

    http://www.acm.org

  • Grant says:

    In education, we are finding keeping our skills up to date and meet the demands of our users very difficult. One thing I find to very valuable is community. There are so many user groups and free events out there which can greatly increase staff knowledge. It can also help their confidence when they see that others are in the same position and experiencing the same problem.

  • John Moxon says:

    With 20 years under my belt in enterprise IT I have found that too many small IT depts. 1-15,20 servers require too much of their IT folks. I see ads for people asking for networking experience,SQL server, Exchange, Cisco etc and then on top of that they expect you to be able to program (not just script) as though you could be a good programmer when being constantly interrupted by help desk tickets/maintenance/troubleshooting and performing good documentation.Now I provide small business support I limit what I am willing to do and rarely charge if something is beyond my capability. I always try the simplest most efficient methods first (system restore,check cables make sure IPIPA is not the address, ping and so on). I am not afraid of telling the customer that I need to research something. I have found that communication and honesty is key. I found the COMPTIA Network track to be quite good but the A+ is archaic-who worries about IRQ’s anymore?

  • Cory Hill says:

    The thing that is lacking in many IT departments is pure experience. A lot of companies make the mistake of thinking they should hire the youngest IT hipsters they can find, for the lowest amount of pay possible. The fact is that older techs who have solved a myriad of problems over their years are often a much better choice even if they cost more to employ.

    Experienced IT staff who have solved a myriad of problems over the years will have a strong personal knowledgebase to work with, as well as advanced troubleshooting skills. In addition, even if you put a system in front of them they know nothing about, they will probably be able to figure it out in short order due to their experience. Experienced people are less likely to blame ‘the other guy’, such as the vendor, and they are less likely to shoot from the hip on a new problem without considering multiple angles because they already made those mistakes in the past.

    You can stick people in school, and make them get certifications all you want, but the real world will always be a completely different animal. If you want a solid IT staff, find more seasoned techs who still love the work and do their best to keep up with current tech. Keeping them certified is great, but if you expect that to translate directly into experience, you are barking up the wrong tree.

  • vinczar says:

    its necessary then implement it…

  • Tom Miller says:

    I am just finishing an online course in “Intro. to PC Troubleshooting” to make sure I haven’t missed something after I stumbled through my A+ exam in 2001 or 2. Its $120USD at http://www.ed2go.com and probably too low end for any practicing PC tech but for the “every once in a while” tech it was good review.