There's a crisis in the digital skills sector: demand outpaces supply. Rapid technological advances and the digitization of the workplace are making it more difficult for workers to match their skill sets with the needs of employers.
While in the higher education sector, institutions seem to be struggling to create graduates that are employable and digitally savvy. So much so that 71% of recruiters find sourcing applicants with sufficient practical experience their greatest challenge when recruiting from higher education institutions.
So, what does this digital skills shortage mean for educators and how can they play their role in creating digitally adept graduates that are an asset to the workforce?
Revisit Learning Programs
Creating and offering programs that encompass emerging digital skills and softer skills such as problem-solving and communication creates employable graduates. In addition, the growth of the continuing education market means that many working professionals are seeking flexible and accessible courses that can upskill them quickly in niche areas such as digital strategy or SEO.
Educators wanting to tap into the digital skills demand should revisit their learning programs, particularly those that now require digital elements such as sales and marketing. Both of these professions have been shaken up by digital with new technologies presenting new ways to engage with and influence customers and as such grow revenue. In fact, a third of key decision makers believe the primary responsibility of growth strategies and revenue generation lies with the marketing domain creating a huge demand for marketers with digital experience at all levels.
Once an audit of suitable programs has been conducted, you can search for ways to add a digital element to a degree program or look to provide specialist certifications that can boost a continuing education program or training portfolio.
Rethink professional training approach
“Businesses worldwide are struggling to manage their talent pipelines. In areas such as qualified finance, what was previously a worrying skills gap is fast becoming a skills chasm.” - Karen Young, Director, Hays Senior Finance
The rise of competency-based hiring amongst corporates provides a great opportunity for recent graduates and young professionals with niche talents that are in demand by employers - skills such as analytics, AI and SEO.
Along with niche skills, this new hiring approach takes practical experience into account such as work experience during a degree program or an apprenticeship getting first-hand experience. It also looks at a candidate from a bird's eye view looking at abilities over and above qualifications such as problem-solving, communication and critical thinking - skills viewed as crucial in a progressive and agile workforce.
Such a shift in the employer space requires a shift in how students are educated. Digital know-how needs to be built into learning programs to ensure graduates have a fundamental grasp of how it works and its potential impact on business. An effective route to this is accreditation which can boost the value of your degree and offer the skills that graduates and jobseekers need.
Partnering with an expert in the digital field can take the work out of creating new curriculum and tap into existing programs that already have a reputation in the education and corporate sectors and add value to any CV.
Consider other credentials
According to Pew Research Center, while the traditional college degree will still hold clout in 2026, more employers will accept alternative credentialing systems as self-directed learning options and their measures become more sophisticated.
Despite common worries and skepticism, in relation to robots, automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning entities carrying out more tasks, causing a disruption in the job market, experts say a broader range of education and skills-building programs will be implemented to meet new demands.
As the digital world continues to shift and we as humans grow with technology, new roles will emerge on a continual basis, meaning that many will have to learn on the job or as the role evolves, making traditional credentials in some areas, almost obsolete.
Offering alternative credentials such as certifications will also feed into the competency hiring model being adopted by most employers and demonstrate not only a valuable skillset but also a willingness to learn independently.
Only a third of students believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market (34%) and in the workplace (36%) while just half (53%) believe their major will lead to a good job. That’s a lot of students expressing concern about their employability after graduation.
The job market is a competitive place and today’s graduates need more than a degree or qualification to stand out. Employers now hire for relevant skills and real-life experience that can be applied to a role instantly along with someone that can learn on the job and upskill as and when necessary.
These new demands require higher education institutions to take a more active role in the careers of their students. This can be done through:
- Career centers
- Open days
- Guest speakers (e.g. recruiters or relevant senior executives)
- Apprenticeship programs
- Graduate Fairs
- Real-life scenarios of situations in a workplace (using VR or other technologies)
- CV and interview workshops
Taking a more active role in career development will not only help students but also cement an institution as progressive and attuned to the needs of the evolving job market.
There's no easy answer to addressing the skills shortage, but the right type of education can go a long way to helping create graduates that are digitally adept.
There's a huge opportunity for educators right now; to tap into a new market of students, to establish themselves as a learning leader, to offer skills that people really need.
Consider these 4 strategies as a way of doing your bit to tackle the digital skills shortage, boosting enrollments and generating revenue along the way.