Plugging the gap – how businesses can resolve Europe’s digital skills shortage

Digital transformation is revolutionising the European workplace, with its ability to streamline processes, reduce expenditure and enhance the service offering.

Image Courtesy IDC

Rapidly advancing digital technologies are already being used in hundreds of sectors, including farming, healthcare, transport, education, retail, home automation and logistics. The demand for information and communications technology specialists is growing fast –  so much so that according to the European Commission, 9 out of 10 jobs[1] in the future will require digital skills.

At the same time though, 169 million Europeans[2] between 16 and 74 years – 44% – do not have basic digital skills. This means that the benefits that digitisation can drive are quite literally under threat as Europe is failing to produce enough IT graduates. What’s worse is that as the pace of technological development snowballs, this gulf is widening. The prospect of 500,000 unfilled jobs in the European IT sector by 2020[3] is very real, and looming.

Businesses cannot expect governments to tackle this crisis on their own. Firstly, disruptive and revolutionary innovations will always affect private companies before they affect the state – because businesses tend to try out new technologies before governments do. As a result, nobody understands the implications of and reasons for the digital skills gap better than the businesses that are directly suffering the consequences.

Secondly, with a capable and trained workforce, businesses stand to benefit enormously from digitisation. Any organisation, large or small, can contribute to tackling the growing digital skills gap, either by addressing it within their own function, or by providing skills training more widely. Indeed, it is their responsibility to do so. Below we look at the three steps that businesses can take to do this.  

Revamping recruitment

With the world of business and traditional job roles radically changing, so the HR and recruitment functions must change as well. Fostering a culture focused around developing a digital mindset, and diversifying the recruitment approach, are much more likely to attract digitally skilled employees.

The diversification of the recruitment process requires serious thinking about what kind of initiatives best attract individuals with a great digital skillset. The traditional approach is not always going to work for the digital talent pool, but appealing to their core interests may result in the desired outcome. For example, the UK supermarket chain Sainbury’s wanted to lure digital talent to work for the company. They decided to launch a recruitment campaign based around Space Invaders, a huge cultural reference point which is typically linked to tech followers. This initiative was a great success, not only targeting the desired group of prospects, but projected an image of the brand focused around a digital savvy environment, as opposed to its more traditional retail roots.

No matter the industry, any company that employs a fresh new approach to recruitment has the potential to attract the right talent. The crucial thing is ensuring that the methods employed are congruent with what the company is aiming to achieve: if you’re looking for digital talent for example, ensure your recruitment process is aimed at discovering this skillset by giving candidates the chance to perform and demonstrate their abilities. Given how much digital transformation is shaping other functions of modern businesses, there is no reason why recruitment shouldn’t also be reimagined and revamped to meet the demands and challenges of today.  

Investing in talent

As technology becomes more advanced, simply attracting the best talent will not be enough on its own – talent needs investment. It should go without saying that the organisations that are best placed to invest in the workforce, are those employing them. It’s important for business leaders to remember that future proofing is not just about technology: people need to be effectively ‘future-proofed’ as well.

Future-proofing a workforce is partly about training them and investing in their skills – and, partly about encouraging them to adopt new ways of working in increasingly digital environments. This could start with quite small things: for example, employees could be encouraged to mingle with other departments to foster a culture of sharing and learning. But it can also include initiatives such as hiring external speakers to teach them about upcoming technology and technology trends, bespoke training opportunities to introduce them to new ways of working, relevant employee benefits and specific investment into entry-level roles in order to grow frontline workers alongside the ambitions of the business.

One company already investing heavily in talent is, unsurprisingly, Google. For example, last year the company trained one million young Africans to support the growth of the continent's digital economy and change the nature of its media and advertising industries. This is a great showcase of a programme designed to deliver the vibrant, digitally savvy, workforce the continent needs in order to grow. But any company, no matter how small, has the capacity to future-proof and invest in their workforce and make changes to the talent pool of tomorrow. A focused approach that aims to deliver the best results for your unique business is key.

Bolstering training and development

The potential value that digital solutions offer to a business is ultimately dependent upon the ability for staff to properly utilise these technologies. In other words: what use is the latest technology if your staff can’t use it effectively?  Businesses must channel significant resources into employee development, to ensure existing and new staff are comfortable with technology and develop a more digitally focused mindset. Encouraging background reading or the odd training session is no longer enough. Being proactive by assuming a need for training and organising staff training days; encouraging staff to find courses they want to partake in, these are all simple ways to make sure that upskilling is a hot topic of conversation and an always-on function. Meanwhile, some businesses are taking an innovative approach, encouraging staff by organising hackathons to develop creative solutions to an issue; this not only engages staff but also improves their general IT knowledge. Digital skills training isn’t a one-off course, it is an ongoing process that must keep pace with the rapid rate of technological development we see today.

Conclusion

While many businesses are aware of the looming digital skills gap, they are not taking proactive steps to address it. This is ironic – because they would stand to benefit the most from a productive and highly skilled workforce from which to pick the best talent. So rather than waiting for governments to solve the problem, business leaders should act now and act decisively.  The pressure for today’s workers to stay abreast of digital trends is clear; 95% of people believe they need new skills to stay relevant at work. If business leaders hope to see the maximum return from digital investments they make, they must ensure workforces understand these technology changes and are adequately equipped to take advantage. Without a motivated workforce, technology advancements risk becoming a hindrance rather than a help, and the skills gap will continue to grow.

 

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