How to plug the digital skills gap

Business demand for digital skills is increasing at a rate that is outstripping the provision of talent in the market. In such a world how can management teams make sure they find and retain the right talent for their growth?


“Every business is a digital business.” So says Matt Brittin, Google’s most senior executive in Europe and the Middle East – by which he means that in a world where digital disruption is all-encompassing, it isn’t only “new economy” businesses that must focus on the integration of digital technologies.

But herein lies a problem: many businesses lack the skills they need to embrace the opportunities of digital transformation; worse, they don’t necessarily have a full understanding of which skills they require let alone where to find the right people and how to attract them.

Recruiting good candidates for any role is challenging. But in most recruitment exercises, organisations are looking to fill a specific functional post and establishing search criteria is relatively straightforward. That’s not the case for recruiters seeking to close a digital skills gap – particularly at a more strategic level, where many businesses are looking to hire precisely because they don’t yet have a clear vision of the right direction of travel.



Organisations in this position – and that includes many digital natives as well as organisations still feeling their way towards greater digitalisation – therefore need much more specialist help with recruitment. They need support from advisers who know where to find digital talent, but they also need to spend time mapping out the job profiles for which they’re searching; how will you define the skills and experiences your business will need as it evolves in the digital marketplace?

Moreover, even with a clear idea of what is needed, recruiting people with the right skills to fill the gap may still be difficult. The demand for digital talent far outstrips supply – and the deficit is growing rather than shrinking. By 2020, the market research group Gartner estimates almost one in three technology jobs will be unfilled owing to digital talent shortfalls.

That may mean working with recruitment companies that have very specialist digital capabilities. For example, Livingbridge investee company The Up Group, works with a pool of global talent, employing digital candidate attraction strategies such as social media to recruit candidates for digital roles. Their skill lies in segmented targeting techniques and specialist understanding of digital capabilities so that candidates can be matched very closely to the role that needs filling.



In this environment, it is also crucial to leverage every possible source of talent – including the broader communities to which your business has access. At Livingbridge we recognise the value we can bring to this challenge and  have therefore invested in our own in-house talent management team.  This function helps our investees define the roles they need, find the right people and attract new recruits; the function also supports investee businesses in building the skills base of existing directors and employees, and in succession planning. The team is often called in to help investees develop digital role profiles and identify candidates, building on the experience we have gained by working with 100+ investee companies.

If Gartner is right then what happens if you can’t find a candidate with the right blend of experience and expertise? It will be important to be creative. Is there potential to build new structures that provide the flexibility and resources required when digital talent is in short supply? It may be necessary to reinvent the organisation’s processes to accommodate a new way of working, or to recruit temporary staff to plug the most pressing gaps. This is an area that Armstrong Craven, a Livingbridge investee company specialising in global insight, talent mapping and pipelining, can help with. Some firms are getting ahead of the curve and developing in house training programmes now to help current staff to develop the future skills required. Investigating these challenges should feed into board-level decisions around succession planning and the long-term talent pipeline to give the business the best possible chance of avoiding talent shortages in the future.

Solving the digital talent issue will not be straightforward: research from the Boston Consulting Group suggests businesses now need to find people with more than 100 specific digital skills. In that context, working out who you need, where to find them and how to persuade them to come on board will be very challenging.  Nevertheless, this is an imperative that organisations cannot afford to duck – those businesses which do not seek specialist help with digital recruitment risk being left behind by more fleet-of-foot competitors.

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