Monday 29 February 2016 1:59 am

How business can get around the digital skills crisis

Make no mistake, digital is more than just the word du jour; it’s helping companies to transform their businesses. But the demand for digital talent is causing yet another skills crisis.

This skills gap is a complicated one as there are many factors at play, from education failing to keep pace with commercial need, through to government changes to migrant visa policy. But the most potent factor is huge fragmentation. People all around the world are developing new technologies on a daily basis. These are niche, but highly valuable and as such expensive.

These factors have combined to create an element of panic. The default is to hire in talent, someone with proven expertise. Essentially, firms are hiring assurance. Yet this can be an expensive endeavour – you’re competing with tech giants and big banks, so you need deep pockets. Of course, companies should look to ensure they have the right expertise in place and recruit accordingly. But equally, your digital team does not need to be comprised solely of big hires. Training your existing staff can bring enormous benefit.

Going off script

Just because digital isn’t in someone’s existing job description, it doesn’t mean they can’t fill a digital role. Whether you realise it or not, standing right before your very eyes is a wealth of untapped talent. Put the word out internally that you’re searching for digital know-how, and you’ll be surprised to see how many are interested.

Alternatively, you could set up a competition, incentivising people to, for example, showcase their coding abilities. You don’t know who might be learning to code at home in their spare time. Not only will this allow you to benefit from skills you probably weren’t aware your employees had, but your staff will also be able to try something new and exciting.

Returning the favour

Invest in your team and it’s likely that you’ll reap other rewards such as an increase in engagement. Reward staff members with an active interest by providing further opportunities that could be a personal passion for them, whether by bringing in external experts to do regular one-day masterclass events at work, or by putting aside an annual budget for each individual’s personal development. Enhancing your employees’ existing skill-sets will not only help them but will also develop your business.

Time is money

It takes time for employees to fully understand a company’s objectives, values, messaging, vision and industry. But once acquired, this insight shouldn’t be overlooked. Employees who have it – in other words, existing staff rather than external hires – are more likely to recognise, practically, how digital can be applied to drive the business rather than just touting “concepts”. So once they have mastered those skills, they won’t need much guidance on how best to implement them in line with the company’s vision and aims. And of course, let’s not forget to mention the hefty costs of hiring and replacing staff members – one analysis by Oxford Economics revealed that it costs £30,614 on average to replace an employee.

Ultimately, digital should be seen as an opportunity for organisations to enhance their employee’s skillsets, leading to a quicker return on investment.