How your business can futureproof its workforce

Kubrick Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Simon Walker, provides insights on how businesses can address their digital skills gap.
5 April 2022

US Vice President Kamala Harris tours the IBEW Training Center in Concord, New Hampshire, (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Salesforce estimates that the digital skills gap could cost the 14 G20 countries approximately US$11.5 trillion dollars in cumulative GDP growth. Drilling down into the impact on companies, a global survey has shown 87% of executives are experiencing, or expect to experience, skills gaps in their workforce. In Europe, 64% of large enterprises reported that it was challenging to fill ICT vacancies whilst for small/medium-size enterprises, the figure is 56% another study outlines.

It’s clear then that there is a problem. Businesses also must factor in that, accelerated by the pandemic, we are moving at light speed towards a digitalized future across industries. What was once believed to be a decade-long migration has now reached an inflection point where demand is sky-high but supply lags via a gap that is increasingly widening.

What’s driving the divide?

Emerging technologies, although not perfect, have provided huge advantages and clear positives. An unintended benefit is job creation via amplified demand for digital skills. Research from McKinsey highlights this: in the next decade, emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, and the cloud are expected to amplify business’ demand for digital skills by up to 50% in Europe and the US.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but as companies continue to innovate new skills which are required to facilitate transformation thus emerge. Take artificial intelligence and machine learning as examples — although popularly known fields, they continue to spawn new jobs, skills, and areas of research, such as the still relatively unexplored field of AI ethics. And so, it becomes that as progress is made, the need to develop pathways to access up-to-date training in these skills becomes the next challenge

What happens when access to digital infrastructure and skills is socio-economically pre-determined for the potential workforce? A report from the Learning & Work Institute outlines that young people from lower socio-economic groups are particularly vulnerable to digital poverty. One in five households with children have no access to an appropriate device. Furthermore, more than one in 20 households in the UK have no access to the internet. It creates a wider situation whereby only 58% of European citizens over the age of 16 have basic digital skills.

Traditional education can help fill this workforce gap, but despite ICT having the highest earnings potential of all graduate subjects, the share of new entrants is the lowest sitting at 5%. When we factor in the high costs of traditional further education, as well as socio-economically determined access to digital infrastructure and skills, it means we need to act now.

It’s not all gloom and doom

According to a report from the Learning and Work Institute, 92% of businesses said digital skills are ‘key’. It means the onus is on businesses to play an increasingly important role in providing digital opportunities both via jobs but also training. This is especially the case as more than eight in ten young people realize those skills will be essential for their future careers and 70% expect employers to train them on the job, the same report outlines.

The solution, therefore, is strong investment into the workforce of the future. Companies sectioning a portion of revenue here, no matter how big or small, will be meaningful. Indeed a recent survey found that of the companies surveyed, 71-90% report positive impacts from investing in employee skill-building.

We also need early intervention into curriculums. Reports show that not enough children in the UK are learning digital skills in school. In the US, most primary schools lack a computing curriculum, which is foundational for students to be innovators in an increasingly digital economy. Businesses need to tackle this collaboratively by meaningfully committing to funding and training in order to equip both teachers if needed, and students with crucial digital skills. Similarly, sponsored tech programs can provide a practical alternative to traditional expensive routes such as higher education.

Such programs account for the fact that humans are diverse learners; academia is not for everyone. Many prefer the direct exposure and hands-on experience of an intensive structured program.

Finally, businesses must work towards shattering gendered expectations of job roles. An easy, but impactful change organizations and their recruiters can implement is demasculinizing job titles and descriptions which can deter female candidates (there are a variety of bias decoders and word replacement tools available). Similarly, rather than focusing role requirements on highly specialized skills such as blockchain development and complex data analysis, there must be a stronger move away from concrete skills to more adaptable ones. However, some 40-160 million women will need to change occupation by 2030, a report estimates.

Inclusive approach is good for workforce and business

In a recent survey of companies with over 1,000 employees across key sectors, business leaders recognized that the lack of digital skills talent would lead to a “loss of competitive advantage.” It therefore holds, that investing early into digital skills talent, can negate or even accelerate existing advantages. Internally, retaining, retraining, and redeploying have been linked to greater business agility and resilience.

Increasingly businesses are starting to understand that a more inclusive and community learning approach is better for talent retention, greater mental health, stronger relationships, as well as higher organizational productivity. It also means stronger business performance and more engaged, happier talent whilst simultaneously tackling a business-critical issue.

Article contributed by Simon Walker, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Kubrick