Bridging the Divide: Strategies to Close the Digital Skills Gap

John Akkara
Bridging the Divide: Strategies to Close the Digital Skills Gap

Methods to Mitigate the Tech Skills Gap

In today’s digitally-driven economy, technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace. For a business to successfully navigate this landscape of constant innovation, they need to have a workforce that is skilled in the latest technologies. Unfortunately, there’s a significant mismatch between the demand for specific technical skills and the supply of IT professionals who possess them. 

Rapid adoption of emerging technologies by commercial organizations is the driving force behind this skills gap. Simply put, there aren’t enough technology professionals with adequate experience in these technologies – not to mention experience with the technologies as they fit within a company’s specific tech stack – to support the market demand.

In fact, 64% of respondents to Gartner’s 2021-2023 emerging tech survey feel that talent availability is the largest challenge to emerging technology adoption, compared with just 4% in 2020 and 14% in 2019. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that companies can employ to address the skills gap. 

How To Find Niche Talent and Close the Digital Skills Gap 

As IT skill shortages loom, more companies are recognizing the pivotal role that ‘tech-savvy talent’ plays in all areas of their business – operational efficiency, customer acquisition and management, human resources, and marketing. 

A McKinsey Global Survey on future workforce needs found that nearly nine in ten executives say their organizations are facing skill gaps, or expect to face skill gaps within the next five years. Though the majority of respondents said their organizations consider skill shortages a priority, few said they understand how to prepare themselves for the future workforce. 

Traditionally, organizations have taken a multi-faceted approach to address their IT talent needs such as hiring full-time, contract or freelance workers; engaging staffing agencies or RPO companies; and/or creating internal reskilling/upskilling programs. There are pros and cons to each approach so evaluating all of them to determine which may work best for your organization is a great first step.

Hire Full-Time Employees

The survey from McKinsey suggests that the most common tactic for addressing skill gaps over the past five years has been hiring. Unfortunately, simply hiring more employees doesn’t address the tech skills gap – it makes it worse if they don’t have both the right technical and soft skills. There are productivity risks as the hiring manager needs to spend time interviewing, onboarding and training new employees, taking them away from their core job. Plus, if the candidate doesn’t work out, the company is back to square one.

While hiring is the most commonly reported tactic respondents to the McKinsey survey are much more likely to cite skill building, rather than hiring, as the most effective way to close skill gaps in the next five years.

Outsource Roles to Freelancers/Contractors

In the face of the widening skills gap, companies worldwide are increasingly relying on contingent workers, freelancers, and independent contractors to fill technical roles and provide flexibility in response to changing business needs. Hiring freelancers not only gives companies access to a diverse set of skills, but also enables them to retain flexibility on costs in an uncertain economic landscape.

Unfortunately, like increased hiring, over reliance on contract workers only exacerbates the skills gap issues by increasing the demand for skilled temporary workers. In fact, the Economic Times reports demand for freelance professionals has reached a new high… as companies across sectors, from technology and banking to consumer and consultancy, are increasingly relying on gig talent amid rising attrition rates and limited supply of skilled talent.”

Reskill and Redeploy Employees

Many organizations are also reskilling groups of employees or are testing reskilling pilot programs. Unfortunately, getting a program like this off the ground presents significant challenges and consumes valuable time and resources. 

While a majority of organizations with current or planned reskilling programs are confident in their organization’s abilities to train and reskill employees, most say their organizations lack the capabilities to design other aspects of the programs such as curriculum, assessments and implementation. 

Reskilling programs face other obstacles, too. According to the McKinsey survey, 53 percent of respondents say the most significant challenge is how to balance their programs’ needs with those of current business operations. Despite the challenges, 46 percent of survey respondents say their organizations will reskill more than one-fifth of their workforce in the years ahead. 

Upskill Employees

Similar to the process of reskilling employees, upskilling refers to the process of improving an individual’s or a team’s ability to perform their roles, keep up with changes in their industry, or prepare for new opportunities or challenges in the modern workplace. 

Upskilling is exceptionally valuable in the wake of the global pandemic, which accelerated the shift towards remote work and digitally enabled services. While individual effort plays a significant role in the upskilling process, organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of investing in their workforce’s continual learning. 

In fact, according to the 2022 PwC Global CEO Survey, 77% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills among their workforce. Fortunately, companies that support upskilling tend to have higher employee engagement and retention rates, as employees feel valued and are more likely to stay.

Creating Custom-Skilled Tech Talent 

Another option that continues to gain traction is to create custom-skilled tech talent. For organizations with very specific IT talent needs, working with a partner that can skill tech talent in specific technologies and aligned to the company’s specific tech stack is a great option. 

While similar to reskilling or upskilling initiatives, the creation of custom-skilled tech talent is done via the Hire-Train-Deploy (HTD) model, offered by providers who specialize in skilling tech talent in emerging and/or in-demand technologies, including:

  • ServiceNow 
  • MuleSoft 
  • Pega
  • Databricks
  • and many others. 

Often supplementing a company’s existing recruitment efforts, an HTD partnership provides companies with access to teams of highly specialized tech talent.

The HTD option also mitigates many of the risks commonly found with traditional hiring or outsourcing methods. For example, HTD providers take on all of the costs related to recruiting, hiring and training plus they guarantee the teams deployed to the client organization will be the right fit for both technical and soft skills. 

This approach decreases some of the burden on an organization’s talent acquisition team, and it enables the hiring manager to focus on their core business activities vs interviewing dozens of candidates then spending valuable time familiarizing newly-hired employees with the company’s technology stack.

Determining Your Best Option for Closing the Skills Gap

Technology continues to rapidly change and evolve. Unfortunately, the gap between these emerging tech platforms and the individuals with the skills needed to put that tech to work is only growing larger. 

Fortunately, there are a number of options available to help companies find the specific tech talent they need to get the most out of their technology investments, stay ahead of the competition and keep their organization on the cutting edge of technological innovation. 

Though each of the strategies discussed in this article are viable options for closing the skills gap, using a combination of strategies may be the right option. Regardless of the strategies you choose, the HTD model is the only one that provides your organization with highly-skilled, day-one-ready individuals with the niche tech training you need to meet your business objectives. Contact Smoothstack today to learn more about .

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