Is Digital Transformation Doomed by a Lack of Digital Talent?

Digital transformation has become a key component in business success the world over, with businesses adopting new technologies to stay ahead of the competition and more quickly respond to changing market conditions.

However, the digital skills gap in the UK may derail the chances of some UK businesses from prospering as much as they could.

Only 11% of workers possess the necessary digital skills to fill important roles, according to a study from Gallup and Amazon Web Services.

In this article, we explore how the digital skills gap is a cause for concern and how it hampers digital transformation projects.

Insufficient supply of skilled professionals

One of the main reasons the UK’s digital skills gap threatens digital transformation projects is the low supply of skilled technology workers.

There is a significant shortage of professionals possessing the necessary expertise in areas such as data analytics, cybersecurity, software development and artificial intelligence (AI).

AI, for example, has exploded in recent years thanks to advancements in the technology, including machine learning, and its implementations.

With AI becoming more widely used in all areas of business, including tasks such as data processing and customer service, it’s safe to say it will be a huge factor in determining a business’s success or failure in the coming years.

Which is why businesses need to have talented people who can work alongside AI and use it to its fullest.

AI and machine learning will be a top priority for businesses over the next two years

But with 63% claiming AI and machine learning are the areas where they’re least proficient, this presents a clear problem.

Without the right people to fill the roles as the tech expands, businesses could begin to experience AI-related financial losses in the millions.

Scarcity makes it difficult for companies to find and recruit suitable talent, slowing down their digital transformation efforts.

Increased competition for skilled talent

The lack of skilled digital professionals in the UK has resulted in increased competition among businesses to attract and retain top talent.

Companies of all shapes and sizes are doing their utmost to lock in qualified workers, by offering them enticing wages and other perks.

But, according to McKinsey, businesses need to go beyond the usual benefits to keep this new generation of tech-savvy superstars satisfied in their roles:

“Money is important, of course, in attracting talent. But we’ve found that as long as the pay is competitive, an inspiring mission and value proposition is what motivates the best talent… We’ve even seen candidates and new hires take significant pay cuts to join organizations that communicate a cohesive story about their digital transformation and vision.”

So, rather than offering the most cash, businesses should focus on offering the clearest vision for their digital efforts, to attract the best talent to their business.

Businesses that offer both an impressive pay packet and an optimistic outlook for the future will be likely to see off the competition.

But this intense competition often leaves small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) struggling to compete, as they may lack the resources to attract high-quality digital experts.

Lack of digital skills development

The digital skills gap in the UK is only being worsened by the seeming lack of interest to teach relevant digital skills within our education system.

While the demand for digital skills continues to grow, it seems the interest in such skills is on the decline in our schools.

The number of young people taking IT-related subjects in their GCSEs has fallen by 40% since 2015, with a similar trend emerging in further education as well, according to a study by the Learning & Work Institute. 

On top of this, less than half of UK employers feel children are leaving school with the necessary digital skills they need to sustain their career development at that age, according to the same study.

But given the rate at which new technologies are emerging, it’s no wonder school curriculums can’t keep up.

As a result, graduates and professionals entering the job market may lack the necessary digital skills to meet industry demands, and the needs of digital transformation projects.

Technological advancements outpacing skills acquisition 

The speed at which technology evolves poses a significant challenge in bridging the digital skills gap. 

As new technologies emerge, the demand for specific skills surges.  But when demand outpaces education, there simply aren’t enough resources available in the short term for people to learn the necessary skills to make them a force to be reckoned with in the digital space.

This presents a problem in the current digital skills onboarding climate, where many employees focus on applicants who’ve completed courses in their own time, as opposed to university degrees.

72% of employers see relevant courses as a greater marker of candidacy than degrees from academic institutions, which just 62% of employers value the most, according to the same report above from

But, if there aren’t enough relevant courses to study, there won’t be enough qualified candidates to hire, creating a never-ending spiral and a seemingly never-ending time gap.

This time gap results in a situation where companies need professionals with expertise in cutting-edge technologies, but the workforce’s skill set remains rooted in older practices. 

Consequently, digital transformation projects face delays due to the shortage of individuals capable of leveraging new tools and techniques effectively.

Impact on digital transformation projects

Digital transformation projects in the UK are under serious threat due to the lack of digital skills in the workforce. This will have a significant impact on transformation initiatives across all industries.

What makes matters worse is that digital transformations aren’t a once-and-done type of change. They’re a slow and steady process that often involves months of monitoring and making important changes when appropriate.

Without the right candidates, these processes could become even more dragged out than they already are.

This will undoubtedly result in increased costs due to a lack of improvement within the business, as well as a lack of potential profits that would have come about as a result of the transformation.

On a larger scale, the UK will continue to suffer and won’t be able to compete on the global stage as well as would be expected due to the lack of digital skills. This could, in turn, lessen the value of the UK’s impact on global initiatives across various industries.

How do we solve the lack of digital talent?

Until there are enough qualified individuals to help, digital transformation projects in the UK will remain stuck in the mud.

The more technology develops and the faster it develops, the less time companies and individuals will have to either learn or teach the skills they need to make a difference.

And as long as there’s dwindling interest from education bodies concerning digital skills, the hole will continue to be dug even deeper.

It is up to the government and the private sector to come up with suitable education solutions, working in tandem with schools, colleges and universities, to make sure digital skills are taught as a priority moving forward into the next decade and beyond.

Along with this, there needs to be input from companies who want to invest in re-educating and upskilling their current workforce, rather than relying on hiring new starters for every new digital role, which can be time-consuming and very costly.

Only when all these forces come together and give their fullest to embracing a digital future can digital transformations prosper.

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