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According to e-skills UK, the government’s IT skills agency, the IT sector alone requires about 140,000 new entrants every year to fuel its workforce. And yet, only 19,410 people completed a degree in an IT-related subject in 2012.
This means that businesses need to look beyond their graduate intake if they are to plug the digital skills gap...
igital technology has permeated every facet of working life,
from customer service and collaboration to product design and
strategy. If organisations are to thrive in this environment, the
need for employees with digital skills is inescapable.
Alas, the statistics make for grim reading. According to the European
Commission, at least 90% of jobs will soon require some level of digital
skill, but more than half of Europe’s existing labour force is deficient in
this area. The Commission projects that up to 900,000 jobs requiring
high levels of digital skills will go unfilled by 2015.
This comes at a time when, according to the World Economic Forum,
chronic joblessness threatens the very stability of society in Europe.
Much has been made of the short supply of IT graduates entering the
workforce. According to e-skills UK, the government’s IT skills agency,
the IT sector alone requires about 140,000 new entrants every year to
fuel its workforce. And yet, only 19,410 people completed a degree in
an IT-related subject in 2012.
However, graduates are not the only potential source of digital skills.
There are many people further along in their career who would be
willing and able to acquire such skills.
Unfortunately, employers are still focused on the entry points to the
profession, particularly at graduate level, according Karen Price, CEO
of e-skills UK. Not all age groups are given the same consideration, she
says, and opportunities for further training seem to diminish as people
“People from other backgrounds, who may have much to offer in IT,
can’t find the combination of training and experience they need to
make a contribution,” Ms Price explains.
One way to address this education gap is through apprenticeships,
approach – a mix of college learning and on-the-job experience – often
suits people returning to the workforce.
Ms Price says that e-skills UK has worked with employers who already
have a keen interest in IT apprentices. These initiatives help to spread
the benefits of high-quality technology apprenticeships to a wider and
more diverse audience.
Another scheme promoted by e-skills UK is called Pathways to Digital
Employment. Set up in partnership with the Welsh Government, the
programme is helping 300 individuals who are not in work, or who
want to change careers, to update their technology expertise. Early
indications are encouraging.
“It’s proving tremendously popular, and attracting people of all ages
and from all kinds of backgrounds. It would be great to think that this
is a straw in the wind,” says Ms Price. “If the sector can find a way to
make the pipeline of talent more permeable along its whole length, it
will reap dividends.”
Some businesses are themselves thinking about how they might make
more of the latent talent within their organisations.
Ian Cohen, global CIO at insurance brokers JLT Group, believes that the
changing nature of technology means that is no longer pure IT skills
that businesses need.
Despite the warnings of organisations such as e-Skills UK, Mr Cohen
says he can still find plenty of people who know how to write code. In
shorter supply are hybrid individuals with a mix of business aptitude
and IT ability, who listen to people, interpret demands and assemble
“We need people who start with a question, and not a predefined or
prescribed answer,” says Mr Cohen. “We’re going to need a new breed
of technology professional, with strengths based in conversation and
engagement rather than code.”
science graduates, Mr Cohen says senior executives might need to start
leading the search for talent among the people the business already
employs. This may provide a much-needed bridge between IT and the
rest of the organisation.
Addressing the digital skills challenge
Businesses need to look beyond their graduate intake if they are to
plug the digital skills gap
Written by The Economist Intelligence Unit
“They’ll be the ones who love spending time with their colleagues or
customers, developing a deep understanding of their needs,” says
Mr Cohen. “They’ll tell stories and paint pictures about the art of the
possible. They’ll have empathy and a passion for the tangible outcomes
that delight their customers and colleagues.”
He believes that some business leaders will view the retraining of
existing, and possibly older, workers as a challenge. But Mr Cohen
encourages his peers to grasp the opportunity.
“Many of these workers have strengths that are crying out to be seen
if only we, as leaders, made the time to look and listen,” he says. “It’s
going to be harder than just buying in skills, but the IT market is already
challenged, so why not take a chance on the people you already have
With technology becoming an ever more vital part of working life,
companies should think about how they might enhance the digital
skills of every employee, rather than waiting for the labour market to
supply the skills they need.