How business owners can tackle the digital skills gap - RSA

How business owners can tackle the digital skills gap


  • Picture of Dawn McGruer FRSA
    Dawn McGruer FRSA
    Multi-Award-Winning Digital Marketing Speaker, Author, Trainer (Founder of Business Consort Academy)
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  • Leadership
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Technology is changing the world at a rate that can be difficult to comprehend; 90% of the data in the world was only created in the last two years and it's predicted that 85% of the jobs of 2030 don’t actually exist yet.

Many CEOs are now finding that they cannot place the right technological skills in their businesses fast enough.

Sanjay Brahmawar -  Global Head of strategic business development for IBM’s Internet of Things - predicted in 2016 that by 2020 there would be 1 million unfilled jobs in the IT sector because people are not being unskilled quickly enough to fill them. This seems to resonate with executives - 75% of whom are finding digital recruitment challenging.

It’s not all bad news, though - there are steps that business owners can take to tackle some of the biggest challenges with the digital skills gap right now. Below are some of the most common ones I see and advice on how to overcome them today.

Identifying what skills are needed in your business

It’s all very well acknowledging there’s a digital skills gap but if a business owner is unable to identify the skills needed in their sector, they’re unlikely to overcome it quickly.

IBM found that 50% of executives don’t believe their organisation’s leaders clearly understand AI, meaning half of executives are not accurately predicting where to invest when it comes to future technology.

‘Digital skills’ is such a broad term and actually covers a lot. There are the technical skills, such as software development and data analysis, the engagement skills - the category digital marketing would fall under - and the systems skills, such as designing and automating more efficient ways of working.

Some skills - such as data analysis, tapping into social selling and optimising for mobile - are key to all businesses, but identifying the areas in which your own company needs to prioritise is a step in the right direction. Start by keeping on top of industry news to see what the future of the sector may hold and take time to understand the growing or changing needs of your customers; this usually highlights the areas in which progression is needed.

Finding the right talent

Some companies may be clear on the areas in which they need digital reinforcement but many leaders still struggle to find the right people to perform it. An Econsultancy survey found that 30% of employers believe sourcing the right talent with the right skills is a “nightmare.” Skills such as software engineering and data analysis are particularly sought out, with 55% of large companies actively seeking the former and 61% the latter.

It’s predicted that digital platforms could add $2.7 trillion to the GDP by 2025. Making the most of marketplaces such as LinkedIn (which do half the searching for you by using algorithms to categorise jobs and applicants) will allow you to identify talent in niche sectors. It’s also becoming more prudent to provide robust and enticing graduate and apprenticeship programmes - these allow you to tap into the latest skill sets coming out of universities and nurture that talent to suit your business.

Upskilling staff

The 2019 What Workers Want Hays Report indicates that 41% of employees believe training and upskilling is the key factor in organisations preparing for automation, compared to just 30% of employers.

Yet 58% of employers expect a lack of skills from current staff to be their top barrier to digital growth.

This disparity - between what employers are correctly identifying as a problem and what they’re doing to solve it - is part of the issue. One of the biggest problems employers are finding is that digital skills cannot be taught once and used forever - they are constantly evolving and therefore their education must do as well. The half-life of digital skills has now fallen to about five years, meaning employees need to be continuously learning in order to stay ahead - without doing so, the digital skills gap will simply widen further.

Leaders need to find the areas in their businesses where there is a gap in productivity and develop learning ecosystems that evolve as the skills of their employees do. Employees also need to be empowered to generate their own learning opportunities - something that businesses must cater for and encourage, either through vocational training or accredited learning. 

Slow adaptation

Currently the maturation of the digital world is outpacing digital skills education at an alarming rate. A large portion of this can be attributed to the lack of action being taken by companies to close the skills gap.

By proactively launching a digital skills assessment of current team members, upskilling in the areas that are lacking and making the most of the unused skills employees actually have, you can begin to close the gap internally, rather than relying on recruitment. After all, it’s been found that it can cost companies up to 60% of the role’s salary to recruit a new hire.

Reskilling rather than reinstating roles is not only generally more cost effective but is also a quicker way to bring that adaptation to fruition. It also comes back to keeping up with industry changes - whether through networking, conferences or news - and using this information to plan for the future.

Dawn McGruer FRSA is a speaker, author & trainer on digital marketing who founded Business Consort, which boasts an alumni of 25,000 trained and certified professionals worldwide.

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