Tuesday 12 May 2020 6:00 am

The skills gap will only be solved if attitudes change, too

VP of Product Marketing, Mendix

Millions of words have been written about the skills gap holding back companies’ digital efforts. Businesses trying to launch digital services or to transform their operating model often complain that they can’t find enough people to make this happen. They often blame it on the ‘digital skills gap’, the idea that workers are not trained to handle the onslaught of new processes and ways of working induced by the rise of tech in the workplace. This theory seems to have gained traction and most people just accept it as gospel. But the real scarcity isn’t in knowledge, it’s in attitude.

Even legacy companies have plenty of digitally skilled people – after all, they’re the ones who leave to join cutting-edge rivals or found start-ups. Many of these people are either the young people at the bottom of the organisation, who aren’t encouraged or allowed to take part in strategically important digital projects, or older employees “trapped” inside legacy structures that stifle their capabilities. As the head of engineering at Netflix once said, when a Fortune 100 CTO complained that they didn’t have access to the same ‘superstar engineers’: “We hired them from you.”

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We are not lacking digital skills – what we are lacking is a digital mindset. That idea that digital transformation sits solely within the IT department is both outdated and inaccurate: today, anyone with an idea can lead digital transformation projects, bringing in the IT department as and when it’s needed. We need people with this way of thinking across the entire organisation – both in the IT department and in lines of business. This brings about better collaboration between departments, helps share knowledge across teams and means that each employee can be an active entrepreneur within the organisation.  

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This also helps solve a problem all businesses face: a scarcity of software developer talent to fill in open positions. To overcome this, companies need to incorporate problem solvers with non-traditional backgrounds for software development careers to capitalise on their excellent soft skills and business acumen. This will enable companies to develop new talent within their own workforce, both in technology and non-technology-led roles. These creative minds can work together in integrated teams that embrace experimentation and complement their recruitment strategies.

With breakthroughs in technology, it is no longer necessary for employees to have coding skills to develop business applications. Using low-code platforms, application development work can be undertaken intuitively by a ‘low-code developer’ who selects small components of functionality from a library and drops them into a visual workflow on screen. These ‘low-code developers’ need an aptitude for business logic and must have collaboration skills, but no coding skills are necessary. 

It is time for businesses to get creative to remain competitive in the digital world. Low-code platforms offer organisations one possible answer to increase development speed and improve business application delivery outcomes – and put the myth of the digital skills gap to rest.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.