Education crucial to tackling the ongoing digital skills gap

With the digital divide continuing to widen, education solutions are needed today to help solve the ongoing skills crisis

Nowhere is the problem of how to fill the ongoing skills gap more prevalent than in the world of tech. The World Economic Forum has estimated that 150 million new technology jobs will be created globally over the next five years, and 77% of all jobs will require digital skills from workers by 2030. However, businesses currently face a global shortage of digital skills already, with only 33% of technology jobs worldwide filled by the necessary skilled labour.

Half of today’s organisations agree that this ‘digital divide’ is widening, with 54% of business leaders noting that they have lost their competitive advantage due to talent shortages, according to a study by Capgemini and LinkedIn.

However, the skills shortage and the issue around attracting talent has masked the need for current education, explains President & CEO of international technical education company CNet Training, Andrew Stevens.

“There’s a lot of conversation about recruiting and training the workforce of the future, but organisations are neglecting to look at their internal systems and processes to build an education function within their business,” Stevens explains. “Organisations need to continue educating the people they already have and use it as a recruitment tool for drawing people in.”

Digital skills gap remains an unresolved issue

As Jonathan Young, CIO of global recruitment leader FDM, describes, the digital skills shortage remains an unresolved and key topic. In today’s technology-driven world, individuals without these skills may face barriers to educational opportunities, limiting their ability to acquire knowledge and keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital world.

“Beyond the impact on individuals, limited digital access and skills impedes the economy: SMEs rely on skilled workers to thrive in the digital economy. Without access to a pool of digitally literate individuals, businesses may struggle to innovate and achieve sustainable growth,” Young comments.

“I strongly believe that in order to effectively tackle this matter, our focus should be on the missing 10% and the missing 34%. By this I am referring to the missing 10% of BAME employees in the technology industry and the missing 34% of women.”

Despite attempts to address this issue, minority groups in the field continue to face underrepresentation.

“Thinking about the missing 10% and 34% means finding a way to listen to their collective voice and to understand how they think and feel about being involved in the technology field,” adds Young. “Only when we understand how people think about something, and how they feel, can the industry start to instigate change, fostering an environment where all groups feel welcome in this profession.”

Engaging with individuals who are absent poses a challenge, as their absence inherently

prevents direct communication. However, as Young describes a step towards understanding is taken by FDM, where approximately 100,000 aspiring technology professionals apply each year. “By inquiring about their sentiments during the application process, a meaningful dialogue can begin,” he says. “While the actual missing individuals cannot be consulted, attention can be directed to individuals belonging to the same underrepresented groups.”

Using AI to eliminate recruitment bias and tackle skills gap

AI has garnered significant attention in the media lately, often receiving unfavourable coverage; concerns have risen about potential job losses due to AI’s influence. However, FDM is looking at exploiting the positive power of AI to interrogate its data set.

“For example, using machine learning engines to try to establish the true number of underrepresented people in the dataset – for example deriving gender from first name. Also, we are using AI to look for topic clusters and then seeing how prolific these clusters are with certain demographics, as well as using language analysis engines to interrogate the tone and the mood of the types of things that certain groups are saying.”

As Young explains, FDM is leveraging the positive power of AI to examine its data set and identify patterns.

“We’re still in the early stages of our endeavour, but the preliminary data collection is undeniably promising. Initial tests with certain AI engines have yielded positive outcomes, revealing the richness of the data and unveiling interesting patterns.

“Our ultimate goal is to find some themes which prompt us, as professionals in the technology field, to reshape how we interact with the public,” he adds. “This shift would ideally foster increased participation from underrepresented groups, encouraging them to join this exciting field.”

How can education resolve the current skills gap crisis? 

With the rapid rate of technological advancement, it is crucial that young people have access to a ‘digital’ education to give them the right skills for the job market.

“There are a lot of organisations who are talking about education but are trying to tackle it as an individual entity, rather than an industry conversation,” Stevens says. “We’ve got to look outside of the current training providers, ourselves included, and at what other education streams are available.

“The solutions differ in every country but essentially, it's about education partnering with industry and collaborating properly. Education is there to provide whatever industry it serves with talented, motivated, educated and well-rounded individuals. But if the industry doesn’t show education what it’s looking for, what chance has education got?”

“We need to work together to raise awareness of the industry as a whole. There’s a need to spread the word to schools, colleges, careers advisors – with the right buzz that piques interest the more they will talk about it. It will not happen on its own. And if the industry works together to do this, the message will be stronger and further reaching.”

As Alexia Pedersen, VP of EMEA at education platform O'Reilly describes, early education is the first step in tackling the growing skills gap. “To develop the current workforce and identify new talent, learning and development needs to take centre stage, with enterprises of all sizes needing to rethink how they train and upskill employees to ensure they keep pace with the new way of working,” she describes.

“Learning and development (L&D) has the potential to democratise learning and create a major shift in how companies hire skills and cultivate fresh talent amid the UK’s growing skills shortage. Companies will create a more diverse talent pool with increased access to upskilling and reskilling tech-related L&D opportunities. At the same time, this will enable organisations to focus on hiring for potential rather than just experience. The shift towards democratised L&D will enable companies to more easily hire, develop and retain the best talent, which will ultimately enable overall productivity.”

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