A building, photographed from the outside at night, showing dozens of lit offices.

Dealing with a digital drought from the ground up

The ‘D’ word is everywhere and, if you listen to the media, the fourth industrial revolution is already upon us. It conjures up images of traditional industries disappearing into the ether and vast swathes of digital professionals readied to drive us into a new commercial era.

Sadly, this is far from the case. Despite digital transformation rolling out across businesses large and small throughout Europe, a lack of new graduate talent is creating serious cause for concern.

The European Commission predicts that nine out of ten future jobs will require digital skills of some kind, yet nearly half of Europeans lack even basic digital skills. When you consider the repercussions of unfulfilled future demand, this drought could be responsible for a very real slowing in progress – which will potentially cost the European economy dearly

Governments are attempting to tackle the gap through traineeship initiatives and programmes designed to drive interest in and skills for digital careers, but the private sector is inevitably first to feel the pain, as they rely on innovation to maintain and increase market share.

So what steps can businesses take to tackle this imminent skills gap?

Rethink Recruitment

When you’re targeting smart, digitally skilled potential employees, you need to approach recruitment from their perspective. Position your organisation as one that understands the mindset of digital professionals and appeals to their nature. For example, the Digital & Technology function of UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s created a campaign around the cult 70s Japanese arcade game ‘Space Invaders’ to appeal to digital talent. This clever use of a cultural reference was a huge success in attracting the right people, but also positioned the brand as a digital-first company.

Building in a tech-first culture can alter the fabric of your organisation – no matter the size.

Dig Your Own Well

A successful business is naturally full of talented and skilled people, but as markets evolve and technology with it, the skills of your people must too. A programme of investment in continued professional development, alongside new skills training enhances your existing talent and has proven success in employee retention. But this is only part of the picture. Making small changes in working practices to enable the adoption of digital, encouraging sharing and learning among your teams and building in a tech-first culture can alter the fabric of your organisation – no matter the size.

Invest in the tools – and use them

Investing in new technology is all well and good, but if it’s not being used effectively (or at all!), then it is simply money wasted. The successful business that purports to be digital first must, by definition, put its people first – the two can only exist hand in hand. So, consider tools that bring people together and enable them to collaborate and share.

Alex Thurgood, Digital Operations Director, Corporate Communications & Marketing Services for Canon EMEA, keeps a sense of perspective when it comes to the skills of teams. “It’s important to remember that digital is an enabler to doing better business, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Having digital professionals who understand the fundamentals of business is as key as having business people that ‘get’ digital. These are known as ‘T-shaped’ people – they have a specialism but can also go broad, make connections across the business, and understand the commercials.”

Two laptops in use, side by side.
Nurturing and investing in your people can create the balance required to address organisational skills gaps

His outlook is shared by General Assembly, an educational organisation that teaches technology skills to business professionals. In their recent report “The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018”, they warn against the assumption that the next generation will fill the skills gap, as there is ’no evidence to support the notion that more junior marketers are better versed in digital’.

“For our part, at Canon, we have recognised the need for this balanced approach,” says Alex. “Of course, we look to recruit digitally-savvy people, but we also recognise that we have a number of commercially astute individuals from more traditional backgrounds and experiences. For these people we look at increasing their digital knowledge through a flexible and integrated programme of bite-sized training that mixes digital platforms with more formal learning environments.”

‘Balance’, it seems, is the key word when it comes to future-proofing businesses against a potential talent drought. Making solid investments in attracting new people, while addressing the training and development needs of your existing teams is obvious, but there’s also a subtler balance in skills training to consider. A mix of academic learning and continual ‘on the job’ training may not constitute a magic bullet, but it will certainly make an impact in the medium to long-term adjustment period while more formal nationwide programmes play catch up.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard


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