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Digital Skills Gap: How to Bridge It?

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Digital Skills Gap: How to Bridge It?

If you’re concerned about the digital skills gap in your business, you’re not alone. Undoubtedly, it is a significant issue, and it’s become a hot topic among technology sectors, educational institutions, politicians, businesses, and the media. Businesses are already facing a shortage of technology talent. According to research by RMIT Online, 87% of jobs in Australia now require Digital skills. The same research highlights that 1 in 4 people feel that they don’t have the skills they need to complete their day-to-day job.

And it’s only going to get worse. According to another survey, nearly half of current tech workers say they plan to leave their jobs in the next three years for better opportunities. I dare say that this number is even higher for Cloud technologies, thanks to an accelerated shift of businesses to Cloud due to Covid.

So, what is the Digital Skills Gap?

In a nutshell, it refers to the lack of highly skilled employees who can handle tech-oriented aspects of a job. It’s more than just knowing how to use an app or software, and it’s being an expert in using the right technology for specific tasks. It is especially tricky because these technologies constantly change and never stay the same for long. In addition to regular change, many technologies broadened their offerings during the Pandemic, so now we must know even more about those offerings. Add the complexity of various tech tools that practically do the same thing, and suddenly there’s no one “right way” to achieve an outcome.  

There are 500,000 unfilled tech jobs in the U.S., and the numbers are only increasing. Employees who lack Digital skills may experience productivity and career path issues, harming their organizations.

In a European Commission study in which 1.5 million people were surveyed, only 30% could use a computer at a basic level of people who had low literacy or numeracy levels. 

Whilst the figure was higher among those with high proficiency in literacy or numeracy, 60% could use a computer at a basic level, it’s still a considerable gap to where we need to be. The same study also found that women are less likely to have Digital skills than men, meaning there’s also a gender divide. 

Challenges

Covid may have accelerated things, but the Digital skill gap is a problem that has been around for quite some time, and it is difficult to close the gap with a single solution. Still, by understanding the causes of the problem and identifying areas to focus on, we can narrow down our efforts to make a real difference. 

  • Poorly defined, one size fits all training programs
  • Cost of training and courses
  • Insufficient hands-on experience
  • Lack of opportunities
  • Lack of mentor programs

Poorly Defined Training Programs

The lack of proper training programs is one of the biggest challenges facing the Digital skill gap. Most training programs are poorly defined, and many people aren’t even aware they need training. In addition, several barriers prevent people from participating, such as time, money, and public access.

Depending on the geo-location, some people do not have access to a computer or reliable internet at home, so it would be challenging to take online courses or complete assignments remotely. Therefore, training programs should be more accessible and affordable so that people can gain Digital skills quickly.

People learn differently, and therefore it is essential to create programs tailored to individual needs. We focus on personas in product development and marketing before defining what to create. Unfortunately, we still follow a cookie-cutter approach to education.

Sometimes, there aren’t enough resources to get started or keep going. It can be hard to find high-quality training resources, and when you’re alone in your learning, it can feel too daunting to keep going. 

Cost of Training and Courses

This is another significant barrier that keeps people from learning. People invest in anything when they have a clear understanding of the return. Training is no different, and unfortunately, when you start looking at various training and courses out there, confusion is all one gets.

Courses with similar, if not identical, curricula do not cost the same. They can vastly vary. Some specialized courses in IT can cost thousands with no commitment or guarantee of a job at the end of that investment.

As a cohort of IT leaders, we need to make tech education as accessible as possible. I would go as far as saying we need to offer basic training for free. And by basic, I don’t mean just being able to use a computer, but being proficient with collaboration tools, ways of working, and methodologies relevant to your industries. Salesforce 1-1-1 Model is an excellent way to start, but real change will require more than a 1% Pledge. 

“Real change will require significant effort and money; saasguru is willing to go all the way.” Saasguru CEO

“Real change will require significant effort and money; saasguru is willing to go all the way.” Saasguru CEO

Insufficient Hands-on Experience

One major challenge in meeting the Digital skills gap is a lack of hands-on experience. People often feel like they need to have a lot of experience before applying for jobs in technology, but that’s not true. 

Experience matters, but it’s less about the quantity and more about how you’ve grown from your prior experiences. The problem is that people are learning Digital skills in books, but they need hands-on experience to use these skills effectively. So my advice to those seeking hands-on experience is three folds:

  1. Assess your training program and only signup for those that offer hands-on experience as part of the training.
  2. Post-training, look for internships and volunteering opportunities to cement some of the learnings. 
  3. With technologies like Salesforce, you can even gain your own hands-on experience. I know someone so driven; she went from barber to barber, offering to create a Sales CRM on Salesforce to track customer preferences and appointments for free if they secured a license. 

Lack of Opportunities

This is as topsy-turvy as it gets and has two facets. 

  1.  Opportunities to learn in existing jobs
  2. Opportunities to land your first tech job

It’s becoming more and more evident that business leaders need to focus a lot more on the digital dexterity of their business. If you can find creative ways to help your employees learn new digital skills that in turn make them feel valued, you’ll improve morale, keep your business agile, and avoid the expense of hiring new people.

On the one hand, we have a shortage of skills, and on the other hand, people are waiting to land their first job in tech. Those wanting to shift to tech find it even harder. My personal view is that most people are still wired to think about hiring in a traditional way. We assess “relevant” experience on paper before speaking with the individual. We typically assess someone with new skills when we talk about grad and intern programs. Hiring passionate and hungry people is more important than hiring people with what we deem “relevant” skills. Businesses need to hire people with different experiences and thought processes, those that can challenge the status quo and bring fresh thinking. If they lack technical skills, teach them. As IT leaders, we need to rethink what skills are “relevant” and what we are willing to teach. 

Mentorship Program

A great way to tackle the digital skills gap is to invest in a mentorship program. Mentors teach new employees the necessary skills to interact with their coworkers, and they can help you retain talent and increase productivity.

The right mentors can also provide insight on how to best use your company’s digital resources. For example, they can recommend setting up your team’s Digital infrastructure or suggest ways to connect employees from different departments and offices.

Shift Left

If you think about bridging this gap at a macro level, the fundamental issue is that we don’t have enough people with the right technical skills. The pool isn’t there. Whilst some of the strategies above will certainly help, a significant pool of raw talent is sitting in high schools and on the verge of becoming adults.

If you want to find employees with the right mix of Digital skills, work directly with student populations by offering internship programs or job shadowing days to high school students. Rather than watching for talent to appear after they’ve graduated, start helping them while still in school. Sponsor their undergrad and post-grad degrees, and instill your corporate values in them before they even hit the ground running. It will help them develop their skills and prepare them for the working world, and it allows you to see their personalities before they’ve even entered the job market.

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