how to tackle the digital skills shortage?

Most workers confident in their capabilities but say employers need to do more.

The rapid digitalization of most businesses today has led to a chronic shortage of skills to support this transformation, but the good news is that an overwhelming majority of workers feel they are well equipped to evolve with the changes. These were the findings in the most recent Randstad Workmonitor Q2 survey of working-age adults in 34 countries. However, that doesn’t mean most companies have the talent needed to accelerate their digital efforts. In fact, despite confidence in their own capabilities to adapt to a new paradigm, 61% of workers expressed concerns that their employer can’t access the talent they need today and in the future.

Across the globe, companies are reporting trouble getting the digital skills they need. A study conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Infosys found most companies in the U.K. have unfilled digital vacancies. Another report found that a lack of digital skills is one of the biggest barriers for the global energy sector in digitalizing its business. And the European Commission believes that the union could face as many as 756,000 job vacancies in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT)  sector by 2020.

In the latest Workmonitor survey, a high percentage of workers in some of the most rapidly growing economies say their companies increasingly need digital and STEM skills. China led the way with 85% of those surveyed harboring such a view, followed by India (84%), Brazil (72%) and  Malaysia (71%). Across Europe, the need is perceived as less urgent, with just 28% of Danish workers believing their companies have growing needs for such skills, the lowest percentage among all countries. Globally, 48% of workers have the same view.

What the numbers indicate is that in markets such as China and India, the race to acquire technical skills is heating up. With demand for talent rising and the skills gap growing in these economies, it’s clear to both employers and workers that more skilled resources are needed. According to Randstad’s Workmonitor survey, more than two-thirds (68%) say their companies should invest more to develop these skills.

For many workers, acquiring these skills will be critical for their future. One-third of those surveyed said they expect their jobs to be automated in the next 5 to 10 years, with the highest percentage (76%) represented in India. In Malaysia and China, 63% and 62% feel the same way, respectively. Workers in the Czech Republic are least concerned with being replaced by automation, with only 17% believing they will be replaced.

What can workers who feel threatened do to become more employable in the future? Most believe if they possessed a STEM or digital background, they would less likely be replaced. Indeed the digitalization of industries everywhere is driving demand for these skills, but as a recent United Nation panel recently reported, only half of the population in developing countries has access to the internet, and the group urged industry and government to work harder to ensure this group of people don’t become marginalized even as digital development accelerates. This means that as the push to bring online technology to more of the world’s population, an even greater need for digital skills will arise.

So as digital transformation accelerates, are you and your company prepared for the changes ahead? Start with the following checklist to ensure that your business has a pipeline to the talent you will need and that robust internal training and referral programs are in place. Even if you don’t have an urgent need today for digital skill sets, you’ll want to have a clear strategy and the necessary infrastructure in place for fulfilling your talent mandates.

University program. Recruiting Gen Z – who grew up in a digital world and have the aptitude for demystifying technology through greater use of it in their daily lives – should be a priority for your talent acquisition function. By collaborating with universities that can deliver graduates possessing skills in engineering, application development, data science or any other STEM and digital fields, you can establish a sustainable source of talent. In our Workmonitor survey, 72% say if they were 18 again, they would focus their studies with a field related to digital/online technologies, reflecting a belief that young adults would benefit from focusing on the expanding digital universe.

internal training

Your learning and development function needs to constantly evolve to stay ahead of business trends. Only by doing so will you be able to upskill and prepare your workforce for forthcoming shifts in technology use and digital transformation. With more than two-thirds of those surveyed saying their employers should increase budgeting for developing digital skills, it’s clear most employers are not doing enough to instill confidence in their workforce. This is an area in which HR needs to work even more closely with business leaders to anticipate the skills that will help drive future growth.

talent redeployment

 Great people skills – empathy, communication, enthusiasm, leadership, innovation – will always be important to your organization, even if those who possess these traits are not digitally adept. Even as technology transforms their work, consider how to redeploy those with outstanding people abilities to new or reconfigured roles. Digitalization doesn’t always lead to redundancy. Instead, consider how valuable talent can be moved into different types of roles to continue to contribute to your organization.

accelerated recruitment

Many digital skills you will need must be acquired through the labor market, so make sure you continually invest in talent acquisition capabilities. Whether you make these enhancements internally or leverage the best practices of an external solution provider, nurturing a talent pipeline that can help your business transform more quickly should be a priority. Accelerating your recruitment capabilities also means choosing the right technology to help you source, screen and engage with job seekers. The people skills mentioned above will be important to recruiters looking to sell your employer brand and workplace.

By carefully tending to these critical elements of your talent strategy, your organization will be exponentially better prepared to successfully complete its transformation to a fully digital business.

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