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It’s not just down to businesses to bridge the digital skills gap

By Simon Winfield, Managing Director, Hays UK & Ireland

I was interested, but unsurprised, to read a Gartner report which stated that in two years, 70 per cent of organisations will have integrated Artificial Intelligence (AI) to assist employees’ productivity. Of course, for many of us, this is already happening – from HR departments using chatbots to answer simple work-related questions, to marketing teams using predictive analytics to anticipate customer behaviour. It is certainly something we’ve been exploring here at Hays.

As exciting as these changes are, the speed at which businesses are incorporating new technologies is not always being matched by the rate at which employees are learning the skills needed to work alongside them. As a result, we are seeing digital skills shortages, which look set to worsen if we don’t do something soon.

Our CEO Alistair Cox recently wrote a blog on the subject, and highlighted some of the ways in which pioneering businesses are providing flexible and bespoke training to employees. That’s training which can keep up with the pace of digital change, as opposed to infrequent training programmes which quickly become outdated.

But the key to effectively tackling the growing skills deficit isn’t just down to employers. It’s also down to the education providers that lead us into our first professional jobs. Then, it’s down to how we, as individuals, approach our own learning. Let’s start with academic institutions.

Education must be fit for purpose

Many people embark upon further education, whether university, vocational training or apprenticeships, with the intention of improving their career prospects. But many of these programmes were originally created for a very different world, and, unfortunately, aren’t always equipping students with the new skills they need.

For example, many graduates are leaving university without all they skills they need for the business world – there’s a distinct lack of work readiness. A student experience survey ran by the NUS across 84 universities, found that 50 per cent of students didn’t feel that their course prepared them for the digital world of work. And it’s no wonder, because we all know how quickly the workplace is changing, yet it can take decades for courses to be realigned to the real world. Many are simply no longer fit for purpose.

We quickly need to improve the dialogue and collaboration between businesses and education institutions so that we can establish a better way of learning, one that prepares our young people for the careers they will actually have in the future, rather than the paths their parents might have taken.

We also need to start teaching technical skills early and shaping young minds to appreciate the ever-changing nature of technology. Singapore, the US, and several European countries including Ireland, have already incorporated coding into their schooling systems. These are the kinds of initiatives we need to see more of, so that by the time these students reach higher education, they have already developed an understanding of the role that technology plays. A good educational foundation should also pique curiosity in what technology offers and what it could offer in the future.

We must all take control of our own learning

But that’s not to say we should rely solely on education. We can have the best educational systems and workplace training in place, but ultimately, to ensure long-term career success, it’s down to us all to stay relentless in our approach to learning. Throughout my career, the best people I’ve worked with have had an inquisitive nature and an absolute thirst for learning.

So, regardless of your seniority, industry or profession – you owe it to yourself to constantly keep yourself in the loop with what technological advancements are taking place around you. Of course, you can’t understand absolutely everything, but you can stay on top of the changes affecting your world of work, and ask yourself how you can keep your skills relevant.

For example, you could start by reaching out to the tech experts within your organisation and ask them to share their knowledge – you’ll find they can help simplify some of the jargon for you and make these digital changes real to your world. Follow the experts in your networks on social media too. This will help ensure you keep up to speed with changes taking place in real-time. In an age of free online webinars, podcasts and a wealth of blogs, you can quite easily take matters into your own hands and upskill in your own time.

The responsibility for bridging the digital skills gaps is down to everyone - business, education, and us as individuals. If we all play our part in being proactive and flexible in upskilling then this is a positive step towards future-proofing our skills in a fascinating world of digital transformation.

For more information or to discuss your employment needs, please contact your local consultant.

About this author

Simon joined Hays in 2006, having commenced his recruitment career in 1993. Initially responsible for our businesses in Western Australia and Northern Territory, Simon relocated to the UK in 2014 where he was responsible for our operations in the West & Wales and Ireland, before being appointed Managing Director of the UK & Ireland business in 2018.

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