Tackling digital skills gap must be a priority

Digital technology is all about disruption. Yet if it’s not careful, it could be disrupted itself by a lack of leadership skills, argues Harry Gooding

 

The biggest challenge we face in digital technology today? Well, it’s not software and it’s not funding. No; we’ve got our very own disruptive challenge and it’s the human resource.

Welcome, then, to the reality of the UK’s digital skills gap.

The chronic shortage of people qualified to work in digital tech isn’t even a recent phenomenon. I used to work for a global recruitment plc and I’d get several calls every day from businesses which couldn’t find the digital tech talent they needed to fuel their growth potential.

According to Accenture, 78% of business leaders expect their organisations to become digital businesses within three years. Yet 44% say a lack of digital skills will hold them back. The lack of those skills has been identified as a real risk to the UK’s economic and social development.

 

University challenged

UK universities haven’t been producing enough digital tech talent for years, with twice as many students studying medicine as there are studying digital-related courses. And there are questions to be asked about the quality of some of the degrees being handed out – and whether they’re generating the skillsets and mindsets which market-leading businesses really need.

The result? Up until recently, UK businesses with digital technology strategies to implement have been able to make up some of the shortfall by attracting talent from overseas, with a steady flow of people coming in from places such as South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, and eastern Europe.

Amid political pressure to clamp down on immigration, that flow is not as steady and the Brexit referendum result has thrown further uncertainty into the area.

So how do we close that digital skills gap? As the major players in the digital technology space already know, we need to grow our own solution. That’s what lies behind Google and Facebook developing their own so-called universities.

 

Keeping up with the Jones’

Not everyone has the muscle, infrastructure or culture to deliver that, of course.

People who possess both technological understanding and entrepreneurial drive do not grow on trees, and finding them is a costly and time-consuming process, as HR directors know.

The future is digital. Those businesses that don’t have a digital strategy in place are certain to fall behind. Those businesses that don’t have a strategy to secure the talent necessary to drive their digital offering won’t fulfil their potential.

We’ve just seen the latest cohort of graduates throw their mortarboards in the air. Some of them will have great degrees in cutting-edge subjects. But only a few will go on to achieve their full potential because our education system isn’t moving at the same speed as the digital revolution.

If the UK is to remain at the forefront of that revolution it has to identify the next generation of digital leaders now.

 

Harry Gooding is general manager of Arch Graduates.

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