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SOLVING THE DIGITAL SKILLS GAP REQUIRES INNOVATIVE THINKING. HERE’S WHAT BUSINESSES CAN DO

Alistair Cox, Chief Executive, Hays

 

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a LinkedIn Live event with Salesforce UK&I CEO, Zahra Bahrololoumi, where we spoke about the digital skills gap and how businesses can use innovative techniques to help find solutions to the shortage. You can watch that session of “CEO Chats” here.

Of course, the world has changed significantly over the last two years. The pandemic has played a huge role in this, and the world of work will be unlikely to ever go back to “normal.” Digital transformation has increased at a startling rate. In all my life in business, I have not seen so much change going on at such an accelerated pace. For business leaders, that can be challenging and confronting, but it can also be very exciting.

What has emerged from all this change, is the realisation that there are simply not enough trained professionals to tackle the jobs of today and tomorrow. And that is a big problem.

According to Salesforce and IDC, one in six people in the UK have low or no digital skills. Considering that by 2030, nine out of 10 people will need to learn new skills to do their jobs, that is concerning.

So, what can businesses do to help solve the digital skills gap?

Upskill the current workforce

 

If readymade talent is not there to fill these digital roles, we will need to build that talent. As Zahra put it: “Let’s rotate, upskill and reskill so we are fit for our new world.”

The idea of upskilling and reskilling isn’t new, but it is becoming even more of an imperative now. As put in the Hays report, Pandemic Implications for the World of Work, which you can download here“Policy makers and organisations alike need to prioritise investments in education, lifelong learning and reskilling programmes. This will go some way to developing the skillsets of workers and making sure their skills are relevant and up to date with evolving market demand.”

At Hays, we’ve also developed a free-to-access learning platform, called Hays Learning, in partnership with Go1. It is available to all organisations and is a great way to upskill your team. Doing so will allow you to see those new skills reinvested into your business.

Salesforce are helping in this regard too, with their platform, Trailhead. In their own words: “Trailhead teaches you the digital, Salesforce, and soft skills that will set you up for a successful career.”

And it works. Barclays rotated their frontline operations staff to IT roles, thanks to learning through Trailhead. That was a brave decision, but it worked and showed the importance of upskilling your current workforce.

The responsibility is also on the employee. The example at Barclays would not have worked if the employee was not as eager as the employer to learn new skills.

Change mindsets and be flexible

 

It will not be uncommon for people to think they can’t move into a tech role because they have no formal training, and they don’t fit the stereotype of a tech worker.

In 2021 and beyond, what does that even mean? The stereotype of a “techie” is no longer true. It is not just men coding and building apps. However, judging from my conversation with Zahra, that perception still exists.

As Zahra said: “As businesses, we have to make skills and career pathways accessible. We all know that digital skills are going to be as vital as reading and writing. That means they have to be accessible to everybody but not everyone can see or understand a path to that. The more we can make learning digestible, flexible and enjoyable, the more we’ll get people participating.”   

Tech can be a gateway into many different jobs. Salesforce saw a 50% increase in marketing modules on Trailhead in 2021, whilst Jacky Carter, Customer Experience Director at Hays, has previously written about HR Tech. There are so many roles for many different sectors that your teams can learn, but leaders must ensure they are aware of them and feel they have access to them.

Recruit from unexpected talent groups

 

Unexpected talent, also described as untapped or underutilised talent, refers to groups who often find opportunities in the workplace harder to come by. Hays Technology has worked alongside Genius Within, a social enterprise who support neurodiverse candidates in the workplace.

According to Jacqui Wallis, Commercial Director, Genius Within, the following positive traits are associated with Autistic workers: “Logical thinking, strong ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time, ability to assimilate and retain detailed information, attention to detail, reliable, dedicated and loyal.”

But despite the benefits, neurominorities are grossly underrepresented in the workforce. In the UK a report published in 2021 showed that only 22% of Autistic people had paid employment.

And there are more unexpected talent pools that could hold the answer to the digital skills gap. Salesforce have created equality groups, such as Outforce, supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and Abilityforce, a place for workers of all abilities, to name just a few, to help people bring their whole selves to work.

A broader talent pool in the future means a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Business leaders need to get proactive about diversity when recruiting and, if budget allows, invest in mentoring and outreach programmes. We recently launched Hays Helps, which gives our staff the opportunity to take a day of leave to help underrepresented groups learn new work skills.

Opportunity for change

 

According to the Salesforce and IDC report, 65% of global GDP will be driven by digitalised products and services by 2022. On top of this, Salesforce and its network of partners and customers will create 271,700 new jobs in the UK alone by 2026. The challenge to plug the digital skills gap is clear.

However, as I said when I spoke about the Great Resignation, challenges are also opportunities. There is the opportunity to upskill the current workforce, which may tempt them away from being one of the 41% of people considering leaving their current job.

The digital skills gap presents an opportunity for businesses to create a more diverse, equal and inclusive workforce and it is also our responsibility as leaders to show our employees that a job in technology should be accessible to everybody.

The problem is not going away, and whilst I have outlined a few solutions from Salesforce and Hays, I would love to hear from you on how you think we can fill the digital skills gap. Please join the conversation on LinkedIn, here.

 

Alistair has been the CEO of Hays, plc since Sept. 2007. An aeronautical engineer by training (University of Salford, UK, 1982), Alistair commenced his career at British Aerospace in the military aircraft division. From 1983-1988, he worked Schlumberger filling a number of field and research roles in the Oil & Gas Industry in both Europe and North America. He completed his MBA (Stanford University, California) in 1991 and returned to the UK as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. His experience at McKinsey & Co covered a number of sectors including energy, consumer goods and manufacturing.

He moved to Blue Circle Industries in 1994 as Group Strategy Director, responsible for all aspects of strategic planning and international investments for the group. During this time, Blue Circle re-focused its business upon heavy building material in a number of new markets and in 1998, Alistair assumed the role of Regional Director responsible for Blue Circle’s operations in Asia, based in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. He was responsible for businesses in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. Subsequent to the acquisition of Blue Circle by Lafarge in 2001, he also assumed responsibility for Lafarge’s operations in the region as Regional President for Asia.

In 2002, Alistair returned to the UK as CEO of Xansa, a UK based IT services and back-office processing organisation. During his 5 year tenure at Xansa, he re-focused the organisation to create a UK leading provider of back-office services across both the Public and Private sector and built one of the strongest offshore operations in the sector with over 6,000 people based in India.

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