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Why the digital talent gap is really about softer skills

Brian Riddell, Director at ICT solutions and services provider Delaware United Kingdom, argues that businesses should not get hung up on hard IT skills

According to the 2022 State of the Nation report from BCS, there were more than 64,000 vacancies for UK tech jobs in the third quarter of last year. This is up 191% on the same period in 2020. Given the UK’s current digital skills shortage, and the fact that for some businesses a lack of digital skills can be an obstacle to investment, competition for qualified applicants is high and will remain so.

That said, the way the debate around the digital talent gap is being framed somewhat misses the point as, rather than being fixed in stone, digital technologies are constantly evolving and most organisations have not yet fully worked out how they plan to apply them. Technology focused organisations today are not simply looking for someone who has passed an IT exam or has a granular understanding of a technology that might become outdated in a few months. What they are crying out for are people with softer aptitudes, from interpersonal skills to creativity and problem-solving, and the ability to apply these to future digital challenges.

After all, while people working in an IT services delivery role clearly need technical skills, that is only one part of the equation. It is a myth that software engineers, for example, are all ‘locked in a dark room writing complex code’. The reality is that their role is among the most collaborative within any organisation. Nobody will succeed in IT if they cannot work as part of a team, solve problems and communicate with users.

Technical training is important, of course, but with the fast pace of technological change hard IT skills might become obsolete within a matter of years. By recruiting staff with softer skills that can be adapted to each emerging technology, organisations can give themselves something to build a business on.

That’s where adaptability comes in. Take the aerospace industry, for example, where processes and working methods change continuously, or the automotive sector, where a wholesale switch from petrol-based to electric vehicles is imminent. Employees and the businesses they work for will need to ask themselves, how can I adapt? What skills can I take to the new world?

Talent retention

In the future, staff with flexibility and adaptability will be highly prized. Identifying these skills and recruiting them into the organisation is one thing, retaining them over the longer term is another.

According to the O.C. Tanner Institute, “what employees experience is not the once-or-twice-a-year HR initiative but all the micro-experiences they encounter each and every working day”. In fact, 92% of employees describe their employee experience as their ‘everyday’ experience. Moreover, only 42% of employees would rate their employee experience as positive or extremely positive.

When people compare their customer experiences with their employee experiences, too often they find the latter fall short. Technology has a part to play in that. Millennials who make up an ever greater proportion of the workforce are used to technology being an enabler. Too often in today’s corporate environment it is not.

Employees today want to belong. They want control over their work and ways to expand their talents and skills. That’s worth bearing in mind when we think about the so-called IT talent gap.

A qualification in computing and IT should not be the be-all-and-end-all for businesses looking to fill technology roles. It is just as much about recruiting and retaining people with softer skills and nurturing and empowering employees who are comfortable with technology in general and have the flexibility to change and continuously expand their capabilities. These are the kinds of employees who will be most sought after for technology roles in the future.

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