Laptop code

The digital skills gap has been a big concern of businesses for some time. “Every business is a technology business today” we hear. If your business is going to succeed where will it find the digital talent that will allow it to thrive in a digital age? In fact, a report from the Department for Business Innovation & Skills in January 2016 raised the issue of the digital skills gap, calling it ‘a major risk to business growth, innovation and broader societal development’ in the UK.

But with 274,000 developers in the UK, how can this be true? The skills that businesses need are clearly there but constant hand-wringing runs the risk of turning the skills gap into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Most businesses can meet their needs for developer skills through a few simple adjustments to the way they are looking for that talent. A mixture of tools and processes will ensure that the skills gap becomes a much easier bridge to cross.

Understand what skills you need

First things first, we need to caveat the stat around developer numbers by making it clear not all developers are created equal. Each has different skills and specialisms in different languages. Android developers work in Java while iOS developers work in Objective-C and Swift; the two are very different. You wouldn’t get a Mandarin speaker to translate Spanish for you, would you?

This might make it seem that the talent pool very suddenly dried up but with a little lateral thinking this can be worked around and skills easily transferred.

The right tools + right developer = problem solved

It’s said a poor workman blames his tools but that doesn’t mean that better tools don’t make better workers. While software development is based on specialisations, certain tools and frameworks exist that allow skill in one programming language to be used wider than it typically could be. One such framework is NativeScript which allows high-quality, native apps to be developed for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, all using the JavaScript language.

With these frameworks, developers cease being a niche specialist and become talented all-rounders – more Andrew Flintoff than Jimmy Anderson. By providing and supporting these tools, your business has a much larger pool of talent to choose from that can work across more varied projects.

Developers need a little love

While the skills gap might not be anywhere as bad a picture as is painted, the value of a good developer shouldn’t be understated. These are well-trained and in-demand individuals who are increasingly aware of their value. As such, when looking for a developer to join your team it’s important that you understand what they want.

In a recent survey conducted by Stack Overflow, over 50,000 developers responded to questions about their work. Aside from salary, 37.1% said flexible working hours is important, as well as 35.9% of developers saying that building something that’s significant is an important factor in their job. Offering good salaries and appealing perks won’t be enough; you need to sell them on your vision too. Involve them in your business and show them the value you think they will bring to your business.

Where are all the developers?

What’s interesting to note is that the Stack Overflow report highlights the depth of talent available: 73% of developers are actively looking for new job opportunities. The problem is that 51% of developers find recruiters to be the most annoying thing about the employment process. When it comes to recruiting developers, traditional approaches alone aren’t enough.

Developers want to be understood – involving yourself in the developer community is a way of doing that. Forums are the perfect environment for your businesses to learn more about how the developer community works and build out your talent pipeline. You will be able to identify regular contributors in your region, what they’re talking about and find out who to target in the wider community.

They’re hiding in plain sight

In 2017, digital projects and business transformation will be more important than ever. Having the right skills to implement these will be critical. But don’t let the talk of a skills gap scare you into inaction. Everything you need is already hiding in plain sight. Understanding what you need and the different ways of solving your challenges will show you that the pool of talent is much deeper than you first thought.

By Mark Armstrong, VP EMEA at Progress