It’s no secret that the UK is experiencing a digital skills shortage crisis. Data shows that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40 percent since 2015, while 70 percent of young people expect employers to invest in their training by teaching them the necessary digital skills on the job. However, only half of the employers surveyed in the study by The Learning & Work Institute in 2021 are in a position to provide that training.
In tandem, the demand for skills across many digital specialisms is growing fast - from robotics to artificial intelligence (AI). As many businesses are still working on digital transformation strategies as a result of the pandemic, this need for highly skilled talent will continue to build momentum. The threat is real. There are fears a failure to oversee the immense challenges posed by the digital skills gap will not only hinder the UK’s post-pandemic recovery but also put the country at risk of being outpaced by competing markets. In response, members of TechUK - including Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce - have called on the government to take immediate action to address the UK’s shortage in digital and data-driven skills.
A sustainable solution is needed and quickly. If left unaddressed, the think-tank NESTA estimates the digital skills gap will cost the UK economy upwards of £2 billion every year.
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Academy models versus enablement programs
Traditionally, academies operate based on a recruit, train, and deploy method on specific themes on a cohort-by-cohort basis. This model worked well and served many companies, both large and small, for a number of years. However, given the skills gap is digital, the academy approach to training is no longer a suitable option to sustainably manage the increasingly technical chasm that is forming.
The fact is that technologies will continue to evolve, with innovation changing our daily lives year on year. This will make some skills obsolete but also create huge opportunities for specialists skill sets to support the workforce of tomorrow. With a rising trend for up-and re-skilling, the need for different digital skills will always be there, as long as entrepreneurs, inventors, and businesses strive for innovation. Couple this with natural and necessary churn - a 10 percent average movement rate within the market should be the target to manage the flow of skills needed and skills available. The challenge is finding a solution to sustainably manage this gap, rather than close the void altogether. That will be a thankless pursuit.
Enablement programs disrupt the academy thinking model; instead encompassing all of a business’ needs by bringing recruitment, training, and continuous professional development (CPD) into an all-in-one continuous solution. With a focus on the quality and velocity of delivery, this solution provides support to employees throughout their careers and is all fully managed within one platform. In order to meet the diverse needs of each company and allow each business to deliver tailored training, enablement programs offer end-to-end attraction, assessment, and selection capabilities as well as the necessary training for those recruits. Also offering CPD to facilitate a complete workforce skills journey means that business leaders don’t need to choose between specialist training or delivery with CPD.
To ensure workforce knowledge stays relevant and up to date, a company must be able to track the continuous development of its employees. This is a critical element of employee retention commonly unaddressed in the traditional academy model. Unfortunately, recruitment and training alone will no longer bridge the skills gap. Creative thinking is warranted.
Again, there is merit for a global enablement program here. An individual or team’s progression can be easily monitored throughout their learning journey while also having access to everything they need to find, improve, and assess their skills. This includes access to personalized courses and tailored learning journeys, which offer opportunities to collaborate across groups, as well as allowing individuals to perform on solo tasks. This approach ensures that each and every one of the trainees is up to the tasks expected of them, while offering them the ability to track their own progress. For managers, the ability to aggregate and track content from any part of this process while benchmarking against industry standards is immensely advantageous. It enables senior leaders to set up learning pathways tailored to the specifics of the business environments and systems, and can even be tailored across geographical locations and languages.
Continuous assessment also underpins an objective review process. Active monitoring allows for ongoing tracking and produces predictive analytics for individuals from the start, instead of waiting until the end of a training module. This offers companies the ability to utilize those metrics to track individual performance and allows for earlier mentoring interventions. Appraisals can be simplified and objective, creating a better experience for all. The overall aim is to encourage generalization, gamification, and employee growth and rewards.
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A sustainable solution for the tech UK industry
Technology is constantly evolving. For businesses that aren’t planning years into the future, there is a risk that the skills gap will grow, putting them at risk of being left behind. We currently see great demand for trained teams and individuals in the world-leading and emerging digital, cyber and cloud technologies. This is especially true for Adobe, Pega, Splunk, and Tanium, as well as the more widely recognized AWS, Google, and Microsoft specialist skills. There are huge opportunities available in digital, but people need the specialist skills to access them.
Global enablement programs have many benefits, but their ability to build a long-term and sustainable talent pipeline is the key to their success. They also put businesses in a great position to deliver meaningful levels of diversity across technology teams by requiring only a base level of skills, a willingness to learn, and a growth mindset. In some cases, they can also provide access to technical talent not available in the open market.
Following a workforce transformation, those Centre of Excellence and IT operations need to be maintained, and continuously improved and enhanced - whether that’s keeping them up to date and in line with company strategy, new products and services, legislation, and/or technology adoption. Global enablement programs offer this additional level of support for businesses to proactively protect against future skills gaps.
Ultimately, a sustainable approach, backed by an agile and flexible workforce that is constantly upskilling is now a necessity. Global enablement programs fill this vital need for talent that is highly specialized in emerging software technologies. The results are multi-disciplined diploma-backed employees that fast-track entry to IT roles, benefiting both the talent and employers. This is a solution that not only tackles today’s challenges but is one that also provides companies with the opportunity to future-proof their business.
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Tony Lysak, CEO, The Software Institute