Chris Ducker, Senior Director, Global Proposition Strategy, Sungard Availability Services
“The Digital Skills Gap” is a phrase that has been banded around for some time now.
Whether it’s a news headline, or an agenda item in leadership meetings, we are all aware that the race for skills is officially on.
However, whether it’s looming compliance changes and evolving cyber threats calling for security expertise, the senior “brain drain” resulting in important legacy skills leaving the workplace, or the fear that Brexit will result in talent moving elsewhere – this gap risks becoming too wide for businesses to bridge.
Pressure to Chart the Course
The war for skills is officially on, but it is fair to say that the heat is especially felt within the IT & Telecoms sectors. Given the nature of the industry, it will be held up to higher scrutiny – with customers expecting businesses in this space to have the right talent in order to advise and steer them through the various changes that are happening.
Ensuring employees are given the tools needed to help them navigate these immediate challenges will be vital. Surprisingly, our recent Digital Compass research revealed that only 18% of employees in the sector strongly believe that they have been given the technology tools needed to do their job. For employers, this could mean losing out on valuable staff to better equipped competitors.
Equipping for the Voyage Ahead
What should serve as a cause for concern is the fact that the biggest barrier to using digital tools in the UK is training, with 36% naming this as an issue.
The breadth of skills now required in a hybrid IT world has meant that younger generations no longer have the traditional IT skills, preferring to focus on learning only the new, and not the old. Exactly 50% of business leaders in this sector said that a lack of skills was the biggest barrier to using digital tools in the UK. This was virtually mirrored by IT Decision Makers (ITDMs) in the industry, with 51% identifying lack of skills as the biggest issue.
While training helps to keep employees up to date on new tools and technologies, it is not the only answer to addressing the skills gap. Organisations should consider outsourcing some of this work to providers who have a skilled workforce able to help across both traditional and emerging technologies at scale. With digital change happening at such a rapid rate, businesses need to have access to the right skills at a moment’s notice. This is particularly important when it comes to IT & Telecoms companies, who in turn provide essential support and infrastructure to help other businesses drive innovation to tackle disruptive challengers, like Netflix and Amazon.
Stealing Tech’s Thunder
Organisations should up their game and fast, with other industries and “non-traditional” IT companies moving in on their “turf” – describing themselves as technology companies first and foremost.
Take Uber as an obvious example; the taxi hailing app, which describes itself as a technology company not a transport company, has achieved unprecedented growth by demonstrating what is possible through the power of technology – after all who would have thought five years ago that the world’s largest taxi company would not own a single vehicle? On a more traditional level there is T-Mobile – which has reinvented itself as more than just a cellular phone company; by embracing technology advances and removing traditional customer pain points it has reinvented the brand and target audience all in one. These are just two of the many examples, but show that tech talent is needed everywhere, and being actively sought beyond the traditional realms of IT & Telecoms.
As we can see, the most resilient businesses are able to recognise a change in the market and fill a gap or reinvent themselves, but not every organisation will have the correct skills at any one time to transform so quickly. Outsourcing some of this expertise will allow businesses to shift their focus to enable greater resilience internally.
Manning the Ship
Of course, it would be unfair to say that efforts are not being made to readdress this skills gap. Just at the start of this year the new education secretary called for changes to the curriculum to bolster IT skills – but in the meantime the sector should be doing all that it can to ensure that it retains, retrains and nurtures the current workforce.
It’s clear that many businesses are not prioritising investment in a skilled workforce. Looking beyond the IT & Telecoms sectors, increasing employee satisfaction, staff mobility and staff retention levels are the three lowest priorities for line of business decision makers across all industries in the UK over the next two years – with only 32%, 23% and 19% marking them as priorities respectively. UK businesses need to invest in their existing talent if they are to successfully navigate the challenges and exploit the advantages that lie ahead. The talent pool is small and certain skills are in high demand – and employees will ultimately choose to work somewhere that will give them everything they need to do their job and do it well. But it’s important that businesses look at ways beyond training to help manage the skills gap and make the most of the broad range of expertise external partners can provide. By using outside help to cover a wide range of challenges, organisations can invest more in making sure in-house teams are up to date on the latest skills needed to drive agility and be able to respond efficiently to challenges in the market.