07/08/2014

By Keith Speres, Director, Capita IT Resourcing


It’s been well-publicised that the UK is in the midst of an ongoing digital skills shortage. And with more and more organisations looking to take on technically gifted talent, it appears unlikely that this will halt any time soon. In fact, as the growth of digital technology continues to have an impact on almost every area of business, increasing numbers of these professionals will be required. But how can companies secure this technical talent at a time of a skills shortage?

The digital skills shortage isn’t a new issue; it’s been going on for some time. Businesses have long complained about the lack of gifted technical talent, particularly those who are equipped with STEM subject experience post GCSE level. This has meant that the pipeline of digital talent from education to the workplace is nowhere near as efficient as it could be, leaving many sectors desperately short of qualified professionals. Even an organisation as large as Facebook, which you would assume would have an extremely robust talent attraction policy, has struggled to recruit the right talent and has suggested that professionals from other countries are generally more qualified. Intellect, the UK’s technology trade association, has even indicated that the industry needs 100,000 new recruits every year and that’s without taking future growth into account. Other studies have suggested that 750,000 new recruits will be needed by 2017 and if that growth can’t be supported it could cost the UK economy up to £2bn. So if there’s not enough pre-existing qualified digital talent in the market, what sort of professionals should businesses be looking for?

Rather than searching for specific technical competencies that may not be readily available, many organisations have chosen to identify relevant softer skills in their future recruits. For example, recent research by Kaplan, the business training firm, has found that soft skills are increasingly being favoured over technical talent by graduate employers. Many technology firms are also adopting this approach and are choosing to recruit and train professionals who can show they possess the capacity and willingness to develop new competencies. Qualities such as adaptability, resilience, openness, learning agility and an ability to be analytical all ranked higher than technical competency in Kaplan’s study, further highlighting the importance that businesses place on these skills. Recruiting on the basis of softer skills rather than technical qualifications also means businesses won’t risk taking on talent with outdated skill sets who may struggle to learn new techniques. And by identifying an adaptable professional, it should be easier to train and develop them in relevant technical disciplines further down the line.

As well as the aforementioned softer skills, companies should also look to identify professionals with a wider commercial understanding. Businesses are increasingly searching for talent with knowledge of the global markets and awareness of how their actions can affect the business as a whole. In fact, The European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) is launching a Masters in Management programme this September that aims to develop this commercial understanding in professionals with STEM qualifications, again, reflecting the importance that these types of skills hold in the modern workplace.

So while there may be an ongoing digital skills shortage, it’s not quite the crisis it’s made out to be just yet. By adapting their talent strategies and trying to identify new skills, businesses will be able to recruit professionals with the ability to learn how to become digital specialists, hopefully meeting the demand that is growing by the day. Digital technology now influences almost every aspect of the business world and organisations will need to change their way of thinking if they want to continue to experience growth.