Traversing the digital skills gap – how can businesses ensure they have the know-how to survive?

By Angela Haggerty | Reporter

Twist Recruitment


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August 22, 2014 | 5 min read

The digital skills gap continues to be a problem in the UK, with more top-level digital jobs than candidates – but what can the industry do to solve this recruitment condundrum? Angela Haggerty takes a look as part of The Drum's recruitment focus.

A year ago, there was growing talk of a crisis in the rapidly growing digital economy as businesses struggled to find the right talent and skills to move further forward. While the government embarked on a digital PR drive about the country’s growth, business critics warned that a lack of investment in solving the skills problem would be a big obstacle in the government’s future plans.

So after all the warnings, has the digital skills gap crisis narrowed, or are businesses still in the same position? According to Farooq Mohammed, co-founder of Digital Gurus, there is still a lot of work to do.

“The digital skills gap has worsened and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future – there are far more digital jobs than there are top level candidates. This is bourne out by most businesses growing, more start-ups emerging and more jobs being available. Yet there are fewer and fewer candidates.

“The issues in recruitment now and in the foreseeable future will be very simple; a lack of candidates and a massive amount of roles. There is a disconnect between most hiring companies’ expectations of what the market is like and the reality of the market. There are far less candidates than there are jobs.”

In May last year, a report by GfK highlighted a growing unease towards the government for “trying to take the credit for an economic success story” while failing to support the necessary development of the digital tech industry.

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The government has responded with investment into developing digital and tech skills both for adults currently in the workforce and, significantly, by changing the approach towards children’s education and introducing coding in school curriculums.

However, tackling the root of the problem at the first stages of education has presented the government with much the same predicament as businesses in the digital business revolution. This September will see the start of a compulsory computing curriculum, and the Department for Education is in turn spending £4.6m to support teachers with little or no experience in teaching computing to gain the experience they need to deliver the new curriculum.

A £500,000 fund from the government is being matched by industry partners such as Google, Microsoft and IBM for training and resources developed by sector experts, and addressing the digital skills gap was labelled a top priority in the government’s Information Economy Strategy, which was developed with industry.

Meanwhile, for the current adult workforce, where the need is most urgent, the government announced an £18.4m investment in July of this year into a project led by Cisco to help train people up with the skills needed to allow the digital economy to progress. Alongside the government, employers involved in the partnership will invest more than £35m to assist in the development of industry-accredited apprenticeships, conversion courses and graduate training programmes.

‘Tech Skills Hubs’ will also be created to fuel the development of more specific skills, such as those needed for cyber security roles and big data.

According to Thom Staight, regional director at Michael Page, while the digital skills gap issue is still a problem, it will likely solve itself as the skills become more available in the emerging workforces. However, business should be preparing for a long haul.

“In the long term I’m sure it will right itself,” he said. “There will be so many jobs available in digital and the need for candidates is driving salaries up, so it’s more attractive for candidates to move into.

“But in the short term, there aren’t enough people investing and training people. I’d say that to companies at large – every company needs to look at its digital strategy and base it partly around not just what’s right for the business, but realistically what kind of people they can access to help them achieve what they need to and how they can grow their own talent to create self-sustaining strategies. Not enough people are doing that.

“From what clients are telling us,” he continued, “it looks as though the economy is going to carry on doing well, while companies will continue to shift their investment spend and marketing budgets into digital. In the next 12 months, I don’t expect a great deal of change, I expect there to still be some serious shortages of candidates in key areas.”

Moving ahead, the challenge for businesses is likely to remain while roles converge and technology continues to disrupt industry. Traditional skillsets associated with the creative industries have been transformed by digital, and creative roles now often need scientific minds as well as those who can create. The shift in the wider creative and marketing sectors has not yet settled, and, in the view of industry experts, businesses will likely continue to find it difficult to ensure they have the internal skills needed to stay relevant to consumers and clients in the near future.

This feature was first published in The Drum’s recruitment supplement, sponsored by Twist Recruitment, on 20 August. Earlier this week, it was announced that the British Interactive Media Association (Bima) is seeking digital agencies to sign up for Digital Day, its nationwide schools initiative.

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