Why all workforce plans should address digital skills shortages

Digital skills are relevant for many occupations, not just those in the tech sector.

The skills shortage in technology isn’t just a problem for businesses in the digital space. Employers need to focus on developing digital skills across all job functions, at all levels, if they are to remain competitive, says Jeremy Tipper. 

At a time when employment levels across the UK continue to reach record highs, it’s unsurprising that acute skills shortages are developing across a variety of sectors.

In this modern world, perhaps the biggest gap is being noted in the technology and digital space – a function that all businesses, regardless of size and industry, will increasingly need.

In fact, it’s perhaps safe to say that a digital talent strategy is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s a business imperative – and workforce planning must reflect that.

While the more well-known digital brands – such as Google, Facebook and Amazon – have developed highly attractive talent campaigns, with their modern offices and training schemes, businesses from outside this industry have yet to really make their mark as a top employer for tech talent.

And given the extent of the skills shortage – with a survey from techUK revealing that 93% of tech firms felt a skills gap was having a negative impact on their business – achieving this will be a struggle.

But how can organisations compete with digital heavyweights such as Google and Facebook and close current and future digital skills gaps?

Growing internal talent

In the first instance, it’s vital to remember that you’re not just battling against the competition to secure new talent, but also fighting to retain your existing experts.

It’s important, then, to ensure that you have a clear and relevant development plan for all employees.

For those with existing digital skills and an interest in the subject, demonstrating that the company is keen to help them develop their knowledge further will certainly go a long way in both fending off the competition for top talent and keeping individuals engaged.

This is particularly important for the millennial generation. More than half (52%) are most attracted to career progression in an employer, ahead of competitive salaries, according to the PwC study Millennials at Work.

It’s important to also look at upskilling the workforce as a whole. In the first instance, this will ensure everyone is on relatively equal footing in terms of digital developments within the business. This includes investing in educating veteran team members on emerging technology.

Secondly, by providing development opportunities for the whole company, you could find your own “diamond in the rough” – someone who is a digital expert at home but who perhaps doesn’t have the traditional experience or job role.

Cross-training and redeploying staff

Following on from this, it’s surprisingly common to see organisations immediately look externally for skills when they have, in fact, got the potential talent already sat in the business.

While there may be some reluctance to let staff go from managers or departments, redeploying individuals, either to different geographies or business areas, is one way to really gain the advantage over the competition.

It’s important to remember that employees will, at some point, look for a change in their career, whether that be a complete overhaul of the direction they are taking or simply a new project.

According to PwC, over a quarter of millennials now expect to have six employers or more in their lifetime, compared with just one-tenth in 2008.

When they reach this point, HR teams need to consider whether there are opportunities elsewhere in the business for them, so preventing top talent from migrating to another employer.

This possibility is much easier to achieve with the use of predictive analytics, which use algorithms to pre-empt such desires to move.

Along similar lines, cross-training staff also has the added benefit of creating a more agile, efficient and collaborative workforce, as well as acting as a strong defence against “irreplaceable” employees – particularly those with niche technical skills-sets.

Encouraging such cross-training and redeployment will help with external hiring too as it demonstrates the varied opportunities available to prospective candidates and really highlights that the company invests in its people, seeing them as valuable individuals rather than expendable “commodities”.

Build a compelling brand

Looking specifically at external talent, in order to attract, and retain, those with such niche skills, an organisation must have a compelling employer brand.

There’s also a real financial advantage in achieving this, with a study by the World Economic Forum revealing that, on average, more than 25% of a company’s market value is directly attributable to its reputation.

In recent years, marketing has made a significant shift to storytelling and curated content that enhances customers’ lives.

Businesses wishing to attract digital talent now also need to make this shift and can arguably look to consumer marketers for both inspiration and guidance on what does and doesn’t work.

This includes how best to distribute these stories for maximum impact. For those willing to revolutionise their employer branding, however, it’s important to remember that success lies in driving consistency at every touchpoint, from a jobseeker’s research stage through to application, assessment and beyond.

Making the most of talent analytics

Successful talent and resourcing strategies stem from an initial understanding of supply and demand.

With this in mind, it is astounding how many companies do not make the most of workforce analytics at even the most basic level. Some large organisations don’t even know what percentage of their senior leadership team is eligible for retirement in the coming years.

By collecting hard statistics on what expertise – digital or otherwise – a company already has at hand, and cross-referencing this with what skills it requires and the talent likely to be lost in the future, organisations can map the entire business.

Only by doing this can firms identify the opportunities to cross-train, redeploy or hire and plan for the potential threats of skills shortages.

There’s simply no argument: digital is now a way of life, both in and outside of the workplace. Ofcom has recently revealed that young people aged 16 to 24 spend more than 27 hours online every week.

But with increasing competition for top talent and a prevalent skills shortage in this field, organisations of all shapes, sizes and specialisms must invest in digital talent development for everyone. Without this commitment from us all, business progress in the tech world will stall.


About Jeremy Tipper

Jeremy is Director of Consulting & Innovation at Alexander Mann Solutions.
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