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Closing the digital skills gap – more effort required

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne January 8, 2018
Employers must up their game to attract, develop and keep digital talent, according to a new report by Capgemini and LinkedIn.

Along with rising taxes and melting icecaps, a shortage of technology skills has become pretty much a fact of modern living. And the pace of the digital revolution is so extreme that it has inevitably made digital skills an even scarcer resource.

That means organizations need to work harder to plug those skills gaps and equally to anticipate where new rifts may emerge. The war for digital talent is getting more brutal – and it’s not just an HR issue.

The key question, highlighted by a recent global CapGemini and LinkedIn report, is, are we doing enough?  The short answer is, not by a long shot, as a snapshot of the findings below reveals:

  • 54% of the 1,200 global respondents believed the digital talent gap is hampering digital transformation and competitiveness in their firms.
  • 42% of employees describe their organization’s training as “useless and boring” and 52% prefer to learn through a massive open online course (MOOC) instead
  • Soft digital skills (59%) such as being customer-focused and having a passion for learning are harder to come by than hard digital skills (51%).
  • 29% of employees believe their skills are redundant now or will be in the next 1-2 years.
  • 55% or respondents say they will move to another job if they feel their current employer is not doing enough to keep their digital skills current.
  • 58% say they will gravitate towards companies that offer better digital skills development.

What surprised Anouska Ramsay, talent director for Capgemini UK, most about the findings was not that there was a skills shortage (no HR professional is going to be shocked by that), but the way employees feel it’s up to them personally to take action:

When we’ve talked about a digital skills gap in the past we’ve very much talked about it from an organizational level and the gap that we feel in being able to serve our clients and being able to deliver the digital transformation that companies want.

The bit that really jumped out to me from the report was the feeling from an individual level that people are feeling the burden on themselves and really want and need to do more.

This can be interpreted as a negative, because it shows that learning and development is often so poor that individuals feel that their employers are not keeping pace. But it is also positive, notes Ramsay, because it shows how people are taking more individual responsibility for their own development:

I think that if you’ve got that level of recognition and people are being more self-directed, then it makes it much easier to engage them and take them on the learning and development journey.

Agile development

But that “journey” needs to be worth the investment. And as the report highlights, all too often the internal learning and development fails to live up to expectations.

Learning and development needs to become as agile as the world outside the office, but that’s not easy to do, particularly for large, established companies with entrenched ways of doing things. But change is happening – just perhaps not fast enough. As Ramsay says:

The traditional ways of training are being questioned. There’s always space for traditional ways of learning, but we’ve seen a real shift in gear towards more creative platforms.

These creative platforms are often not found in the classroom or through CBT courses: people are learning through their networks, through online learning communities from their peers.

The whole learning revolution has shifted into different places and our challenge in HR is to work out how we recognize that learning and development in more of a structured way as well.

Creative solutions

It’s not just learning that needs to adapt, the type of people and methods of recruitment also needs to change. At Capgemini, says Ramsay, that means constantly coming up with creative solutions to finding new talent, such as encouraging returners to the workplace or career changers and reaching out to schools and colleges:

The shortage of talent just means we have to be creative to compete and take away some of the constraints we have perhaps put on ourselves in our past to make it happen.

Another aspect of effective recruitment, observes Ramsay, is to look beyond the traditional science and technology talent pool and recruit people from an Arts background:

The more diverse we are in the talent space, the more diversity we get in many, many ways, such as their thinking styles.

What’s important are the soft skills of having a passion for technology and the desire to learn and develop – and that needs to be reflected in the recruitment process. So rather than focus on candidate’s technical experience, it’s key to discover people’s attitude and aptitude. Yet finding such people and true passion is not straightforward, acknowledges Ramsay:

Passionate is one of the most over-used words on CVs and trying to dig into that is has been fascinating. One of the ways we did that was to get people to come in and tell us their digital story and what it is about digital that really matters to them. It brought up some really fascinating and diverse replies, from how digital underpins how they connect with friends to people who are building drones at home.

The report identified a small group of companies that are tackling the digital skills gap effectively. These pacesetters share a number of characteristics in the way they attract, develop and retain talent, including creating an environment that prioritizes and rewards learning and providing employees with a clear career development path. Pacesetters are backed by a leadership team that understands the unique needs of digital talent and provides the flexible and collaborative workspace that digital employees crave.

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