The digital talent gap: Why softer skills must move into the spotlight - The EE

The digital talent gap: Why softer skills must move into the spotlight

In the US alone, there were more than 3.6 million postings by employers for tech job openings during the course of last year, with a projected 178,000 new tech jobs being posted in 2022. Across the pond, the number of technology opportunities available tells much of the same story. There were more than 64,000 vacancies for UK tech jobs in the third quarter of last year, according to a State of the Nation report from BCS, and represented an increase of 191% on the same period in 2020, says Brian Riddell, director at Delaware United Kingdom.

It’s reflective of a wider digital skills gap that is impacting the globe. The World Economic Forum now estimates that over half of all employees (54%) will need significant re-skilling this year to meet IT-related needs. Market competition for qualified applicants is fierce, and for some organisations, having staff in place without the right digital skills can put a blocker on investment and growth.

Digital skills will no doubt remain in high demand over the coming years, but the talent gap is not just about purely understanding technologies at a technical level. This is particularly relevant as digital applications continue to constantly evolve and many companies as a result are not sure how best to apply them to their operations.

Searching for the right skills

With the rate of change continuing to gather pace, technology-focused organisations are not just searching for a candidate who has gained a qualification in an IT-related field or has a granular understanding of the technology. Doing so brings the risk of this knowledge or expertise not being relevant in the next few months or even weeks, depending on the pace of change.

What they are crying out for in today’s market are people with softer aptitudes, from interpersonal skills to creativity and problem-solving, dependability, time management and critical thinking, together with the ability to apply these to future digital challenges. The value of soft skills cannot be overstated. LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report found that in almost nine-out-of-ten cases (89%) where a new hire hasn’t been able to integrate into the business was due to a lack of soft skills. Monster’s The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook discovered that soft skills were top of the list when it came to what employers were looking for in new hires.

It is without doubt that people working in an IT services delivery role require technical skills to be successful, but now it’s only one piece of the puzzle. It is a myth that software engineers, for example, are all locked in a dark room writing complex code, hidden away from other departments of the business. The reality is the role is among the most collaborative within any organisation. Nobody will succeed in IT if they cannot work as part of a team, problem-solving, or having that ability to communicate the skills back to users.

Technical training needs to still be offered, but with technology always evolving, in five years’ time that knowledge may become obsolete. Some hard IT skills might start to lose their relevance by that point, but by recruiting staff with softer skills that can be adapted to each emerging technology, organisations are giving themselves something to build a business on.

The solution is ensuring adaptability in operations. Take the aerospace industry, for example, where processes and working methods change continuously, or the automotive sector, where a wholesale switch is pending from petrol-based to electric vehicles: employees and the businesses they work for will need to ask themselves, how can I adapt? What skills can I take to the new world as it permanently changes?

Keeping hold of the best talent

Flexibility and adaptability will be a top priority for businesses in the future. However, it’s a multi-faceted challenge, as identifying the skills and recruiting them into the business is one aspect, but the other hurdle is then keeping the best and brightest from leaving, and deterring them from moving to another corporation.

The O.C. Tanner Institute summarises this by explaining that employees don’t experience the once-or-twice-a-year HR initiative, but rather all the smaller experiences that they encounter during every day of their working week. This is represented in the fact that 92% of employees say that their experience is defined by the events that happen to them on a daily basis. In addition, there’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to enhancing the experience, with only 42% of employees rating it as positive or extremely positive.

Many organisations are finding that when customer and employee experiences are matched up against each other, it’s the customers who are benefitting the most, and technology is what is holding employees back from reporting on a lasting experience. Much of the reason for this is the fact that an ever-expanding part of the workforce, millennials and Generation Z employees, have grown up with digital technology surrounding them, and are expecting it to be an enabler in the workplace.

It remains the case however that in today’s environment, technology is still failing to play that role. Employees today also want to feel like they are part of something, and belong to a working culture. They want to have authority over their work and grow their talent and skills across their career, which is something that organisations also need to consider when we talk about the so-called IT talent gap.

Brian Riddell

Ultimately, in the fast-moving digital world we live in today, a qualification in computing and IT alone simply cannot be the only gateway for employees to access technology roles, nor should it be the only criteria for businesses. The impetus needs to be on the recruitment and retainment of people with softer skills, while also taking steps to nurturing and empowering employees who are already versed in technology and digital applications, but have an element of flexibility to take on new skills and learn new capabilities. It will be the employees who possess abilities in both of these areas that will be fielding a plethora of new technology job offers in the future.

The author is Brian Riddell, director at Delaware United Kingdom.

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