8 Things Businesses Should Know About the Digital Skills Shortage

Digital transformation is not a sure thing. There is no guarantee your company will survive the rapid changes of modern industry and business. One of the biggest reasons for this is the digital skills shortage.

A lack of digital talent in the right areas is hampering the progress of many companies, across a vast range of industries. Having a workforce that is underprepared for the change ahead can be crippling to any organization.

Companies must now face two hard truths:

First, digital transformation is not an option. And second, addressing the digital skills shortage can make or break the future of their company.

So, how can your company conquer these problems to succeed in the digital age?

Understanding the Digital Skills Shortage is Vital

Having a digital career holds a certain allure and the idea of being skilled to work in the digital future that is coming definitely attracts many people. By 2020, there will be 150,000 digital jobs in the UK.

Because of this, it would be easy to assume there is a wealth of digital talent out there. Companies should have no trouble finding the professional experts they need, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

At present, many graduates are leaving without relevant skills, and the pool for senior technical roles is dwindling. Just as the UK expects a boom in new digital talent by 2020, conversely, they predict a shortage of some 800,000 tech employees.

To understand what exactly is going wrong, we must consider the issue on a smaller scale. Here are 8 things leaders should know about the digital skills shortage.

1. There is confusion about the skills needed

There is confusion about the skills needed

Today, just 20% of the current workforce has the skills required for 60% of the future jobs that will be available in the next five to ten years.

Many employees already think their skillset is redundant. The need to upskill is growing among working professionals. The problem is, it isn’t easy to define what skills are most needed.

While it makes sense to learn hard digital skills, the shortage is more pronounced in soft skills. The top three soft skills that companies are looking for now are:

  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Creative thinking

Companies want their employees to be passionate about learning, and to have a customer-centric focus. 

The importance of this is evident, as 56% of leaders claim they would hire someone with the right soft skills, even if they didn’t have a technical background.

2. Hiring is Harder

The rapid rate at which digital is advancing has created a skills gap. So, even with over 70,000 jobs available, marketers don’t fully understand how to find the people they need.

So while there is a huge need for digital talent, but without a clear plan and the technical knowledge, recruiters and hiring managers are lost. This makes the hiring process more difficult for digital jobs and can even lead to instances where the wrong person is hired.

Even if managers try to upskill and learn more about digital skills, the rate of change means their new knowledge can soon be obsolete.

In most cases, it’s unlikely hiring managers can truly commit to learning more while doing their full-time job, thus compounding their struggle to hire the right talent.

3. Employers must upskill their workforce

Employers Must Upskill their Workforce

A survey of 1,400 UK businesses found that 84% of them say digital skills play a more important role in their business than just two years ago.

With hiring proving tricky, some companies are looking inwards, choosing to upskill their current workforce instead. AT&T has opted for this route, believing it may be more cost-effective to provide in-house training to over 100,000 of their existing staff.

Unfortunately for many companies, they are finding it hard to upskill workers both in terms of dinging the right training and engaging employees in the process as they try to manage busy roles. The key is to offer training that is both aligned with industry, flexible and instantly applicable to a day-to-day role.  

While it’s not straightforward, businesses that help their workforce develop key skills will bring the organization up to date, which will benefit everyone in the long-term.

4. The Fear of Technology Taking Over

The rise of artificial intelligence and automation technologies is exciting for the future of industry. However, it does inevitably reduce the need for people in a number of roles.

In the UK, many young people are concerned their skills will no longer be needed, with 45% thinking technology will usurp their jobs. Marketing in the digital age comprises several distinct areas, from social media to analytics to B2B blogs and email copywriting.

While seen as a disruptive force many leaders believe that new technologies such as AI will generate 2.3 million jobs according to Gartner with the public sector, healthcare and education expected to benefit most. 

The main thing to keep in mind is that technologies are there to drive efficiencies, so providing staff with a clear understanding of what else is required will help them to work alongside the technology, complementing its shortcomings, rather than lose out by competing directly against the superior abilities of AI. 

5. Digital natives aren’t guaranteed to succeed

Digital natives aren’t guaranteed to succeed

87% of UK business leaders believe it is vital they attract more digital natives into their organizations over the next three years.

The young people of today are immersed in digital from an early age, typically getting familiar with devices and the internet while they are still in school. It would be easy to assume they will be prepared to work in the digital future.

In reality, being familiar with using tech does not equate to possessing the skills and knowledge to use technology in business. Many digital natives simply enjoy playing with tech, but considerably less commit to becoming truly skilled with it.

Consequently, the supply of digital skills is falling well behind the demand, with studies showing that over 70% of large companies and also 50% of small and medium companies facing a skills shortage.

6. Learning Doesn’t End in School

Learning should be a continuous journey, which goes beyond classrooms and graduation days.

Programs such as the SkillsFuture initiative encourage people to develop a mindset for lifelong learning. Whether it is outsourced learning or in-house training, the need to continually learn in the digital age isn’t something to be disregarded.

Companies that offer a learning journey through training opportunities, with a proactive approach to upskilling their employees will have greater success in attracting new talent. 

Businesses remain competitive as their workforce commits to growing and learning together, moving them towards a successful transformation built upon a digital culture within the organization.

7. Agility is crucial

Agility is crucial

Over the next few years, the competition to secure new digital talent is expected to boom. In order to get ahead of the pack, companies must develop training initiatives geared towards digital transformation. 

This means they will need to be flexible and adaptable in their approach. Having the  agility to respond to the rapid changes in the industry is vital.

The skills shortage makes it difficult to get new employees, so employers have to show they are set up for the future.

Research indicates that 55% of employees would leave a role if their employer was unwilling to provide training while over half claim they would apply to a company that puts digital skills development high on their priority list.

In an economy that is becoming increasingly digital, the organizations that can bridge the talent gap will gain the edge over those who stand still.

8. Higher Education Must Adapt

Many graduates leave the education system underprepared to work in the rapidly-advancing digital world. This is because the education system is struggling to plant the roots for digital success in the early years.

As the education system struggles to adapt, young working professionals try to plug the gaps with the limited skills they have now, simply because it is unfeasible to return to education and learn the digital skills they need. And so, the gap widens.

Traditional 4-year programs are rigid in their learning schedules and come with immense costs that can deter many people. With greater options in online learning, more and more young people can take control of their own education.

Graduates must be better equipped for the future, so the way in which students are taught must change. As such, education providers must adapt their learning programs, making sure that students get a grasp of digital and its relevance to their career paths and business futures.

Now, businesses must clarify the skills that are needed. They need to invest in quality in-house training to upskill the current workforce in order to help bring a business up-to-speed.

Long-term, companies must look to foster a  digital culture that encourages continuous learning. They must have a vision for remaining at the forefront of digital practices and processes, regardless of what industry they are in.

At its core, there is a need for employers and education providers to work closely, encouraging more working professionals to embrace digital to enhance their roles irrelevant of the department while businesses that get involved in government initiatives will stand to gain in the battle for digital talent.