Salesforce Live - the skills challenge ahead for the Vaccine Economy

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan July 7, 2021
COVID has led to massive digital transformation acceleration. It's also exposed the digital skills gap all the more painfully.

Image of a signpost with the words ‘new skills’ on it

The Vaccine Economy is emerging and brings with it fresh opportunities for growth, but also significant challenges when it comes to how to fill vacancies in a business environment that’s seen massive acceleration of digital transformation priorities.

That was one of the key messages emerging from Salesforce’s Live event in London. With the event transmitted 48 hours after the UK Government announced the lifting of COVID restrictions to kick in from 19th July, Salesforce Live from London was able to look ahead to the Vaccine Economy as well as back to how we’ve all coped for the past 18 months of pandemic life.

Zahra Bahrololoumi, EVP & CEO of Salesforce UKI, picked up on some of the changes that are beginning to manifest themselves:

We're starting to see people face-to-face and in real life. We're touching people in 3D. From a Salesforce perspective, it is so nice because we're actually meeting customers in the flesh. But I think the key point for us in Salesforce, if this last year and a half has taught us anything, is that we really believe - and we've proven - that we can work and be successful from anywhere.

This pandemic has changed how we work. We're working in a hybrid working model - some of us on Zoom, some of us are still in conference rooms. We’re still navigating our way through this. That's true of ourselves and that's true about customers. They're trying to build their own connected digital experiences with their own customers, whether that's retailers, whether that's restauranteurs, doing click and collect, whether that's  car companies delivering  the test drive to your door. So we're going at a huge pace and we're adapting, and we're still learning.

Skills shortage

But while the pandemic has famously accelerated digital transformation programs within organizations across all business sectors - just for basic survival reasons alone! - it has also exposed an already existing issue to more open scrutiny. Bahrololoumi explained:

One of the things that the pandemic has really exacerbated is it's created an even larger skills gap. We've just worked with IDC to publish a report and it concludes that in 2022, 65% of the world's GDP will be derived from digitized services. So when you think about that and then you look at the UK and you look at Ireland,  in the UK one in six people, and in  Ireland one in three have low or no digital skills.

That’s a big problem. According to IDC, by 2030, nine out of 10 workers will need to learn new skills to do their jobs, at a cost of £1.3 billion a year.

For its part, IDC reckons that Salesforce and its ecosystem of partners and customers will create 81,500 direct jobs by 2025. While 58,300 of these will be in technical roles, many others will require enhanced levels of digital proficiency in areas such as sales, marketing, HR and finance. The research group identifies three target groups that need upskilling/re-skilling.

  1. IT professionals. IDC estimates there are 115,000 current job openings, of which 93,000 are outside London. But only 34,000 of these are expected to be filled in 2021, leaving 81,000 vacant due to the skills deficit. It should be noted that there are currently 1.8 million IT professionals in the UK&I, 61% of whom reside outside Greater London. IDC’s study also finds that there are 105,500 current job postings for enterprise CRM technical skills in the UK.
  2. Sales, Marketing, HR and Finance. IDC points to 192,000 current job openings for sales and marketing and 337,000 for Finance and HR. IDC’s study reports 406,000 current sales admin, sales, marketing and customer services job postings in the UK. Of those current vacancies, 42% require digital proficiency.
  3. The unemployed. Some 37% of the unemployed in the UK&I have an advanced, tertiary education, but this demographic still needs re-skilling.

Summing up, IDC notes:

Both the UK and Ireland have a significant portion of the workforce aiming for retirement in the next four years. Recruitment from eligible graduates will not fill the gap created by retirements and growth. IDC estimates that demand for IT professionals will exceed supply by 160,000 roles in 2025. Such a gap will need to be filled by internal re-skilling and international recruitment.

Currently, the level of proficiency in digital tools in Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service in the UK and Ireland is 23%. Current demand, measured by the job postings, is 42%. This existing gap is expected to increase, with roles in Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Accounting, HR, and product/service development increasingly dependent on technology.

Meeting the challenge

So there’s a clear challenge here for the Vaccine Economy, in the UK and Ireland particularly in this case, but reflected around the world.  Bahrololoumi said:

We’ve got to create digital skills. We're not short of people, we're of skills. We've got a role to play  and Salesforce takes that very seriously. We're doing a number of things, whether it's creating early access to careers through our apprenticeship programs, where people can be paid and they can work and they can get that foundation for future careers, or whether it's on our Trailhead platform, where that's giving access to technical skills, free of charge, to people who otherwise wouldn't necessarily had access to a different career.

My take

In my 30 years as a journalist/analyst, the digital skills gap story is an unwelcome 'monkey on my shoulder' that I’ve carried with me through the decades. That said, this is different this time around. The COVID crisis has indeed forced organizations across all sectors to take those multi-year, ‘pay lots of revenue to SIs for the next 10 years’ digital transformation roadmaps and say, ‘Sh*t! We need to do this now, not in 5 years time!’. And we’ve seen many examples of success stories come out of that realization - as well as, I hope, a long-standing learning that ‘contemplating an SI's navel’ isn’t a compulsory part of pushing forward transformation in your business!

But the skills gap is still something that’s going to come back to bite us and bite us hard unless we finally engage with the problem. Salesforce has, rightly, made great play in recent years over the success of its Trailhead initiative. Other vendors have their own avatars of this - I’m resisting using the term ‘variants’ for obvious reasons! - but we need the whole tech sector to get behind such schemes. The data today came out of a UK-centric event. This problem, at least, isn’t just one for Brexit Britain.

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