Technological advances spur changes in companies—and jobs—of all kinds. The pace of change has become so rapid that it's hard, if not impossible, for educational institutions to keep up. Even the most recent graduates often lack the specific skills that organizations need, so learning must also happen on the job.
HR leaders should stay abreast of these changes to ensure they're developing internal talent and seeking external talent to fill technology gaps that may exist today while preparing for future needs. It's a daunting task, with tech talent in increasingly short supply and new needs continually emerging.
Digital Transformation Drives Talent Needs
Charlie Schilling is president of enterprise business and workforce development at Emeritus, an educational technology company with a U.S. headquarters based in Boston. He said that in 2023, companies are narrowing in on operational efficiency and driving return on investment. Leaders need to be comfortable analyzing data to make decisions, and employees need to possess—or learn—technology skills so they can do their jobs most efficiently.
"Tech-related skills have become more critical in the last decade and continue to be important for almost any role to have some digital knowledge or savvy," said Kacie Walters, vice president of people and culture at Atlas, a global talent management platform company in Chicago. "Just because you may not be in an IT or technology role doesn't mean you don't need skills in the realms of data, security, automation and design thinking. These skills are needed in any function within an organization to help streamline processes and maximize data for good decision-making."
Unfortunately, these skills are in short supply.
Critical Skills Gaps
Schilling pointed to research showing significant gaps in technological needs and the availability of talent to meet those needs:
- A 2022 PwC Pulse Survey found that 60 percent of business leaders felt the most important growth driver for their organizations was digital transformation, while 77 percent said hiring and retaining talent was the most critical growth driver. The two are closely related.
- Salesforce's 2022 Global Digital Skills Index found that 73 percent of respondents don't feel equipped to learn the digital skills that businesses currently need, and 76 percent don't feel equipped for the future.
Sania Khan, chief economist and head of market insights at Eightfold AI, said her company identified the top 10 emerging skills in tech:
- Cloud computing
- Machine learning
- Digital marketing
- Mobile applications
Cloud computing demand was nine times higher in 2022 than in 2021. "Every organization could benefit from developing a plan for acquiring these emerging technical skills," Khan said. That plan is likely to include some combination of talent acquisition and internal training and development.
But while tech skills are top-of-mind during talent acquisition these days, soft skills also play a critical role in ensuring that tech talent can operate efficiently and effectively.
"Our clients and partners repeatedly tell us that technology training on its own falls short," Schilling said. "Where many organizations struggle is failing to pair technology know-how with leadership skills," which is "the soft-skills part of the equation."
And it's a critical part. Schilling said it's important for leading technology-driven organizations to have a customer-first mindset. That requires leaders to "think strategically, build technology advantage and accelerate growth while leading and inspiring teams along the way."
Filling KSA Gaps: Grow or Buy?
"Data analytics is now a table-stakes skill for technical and nontechnical teams alike, and organizations that bring in seasoned leaders while also upskilling current teams will benefit strategically and operationally," Schilling said. In addition, "since the pandemic, there has been an emphasis on companies expanding different processes by leveraging new technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning."
These integral knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) "are driving the future of work and should be top of mind for organizations when offering educational training and skills development for current and future employees," he said.
But while organizations can turn to the external market for these skills, Khan acknowledged that this "poses a series of challenges in a tight labor market." She observed that "many organizations are scaling their upskilling operations and leaning on contingent workers to fill skill gaps in the current economic environment."
Walters agreed that the labor market is very competitive when it comes to tech-related competencies. "This is why some larger organizations are working with schools and colleges to develop programs and certifications that feed into their talent pipelines for internships, rotational programs, or entry-level jobs," she said. "Hackathons are another great way to find talent."
Hackathons are events that bring people together to solve a challenge. While not always related to technology, these events do tend to attract people with an affinity for both problem solving and using tech-related solutions.
Atlas partners with Coursera to provide training to help employees develop deep expertise in areas including data analytics, cybersecurity, design thinking and Agile methodology. The training is made available to them "on day one," Walters said. "Going forward we will be identifying additional critical skills we need across the organization and align learning paths and opportunities to ensure people develop what they need to stay competitive and add value to Atlas."
The bottom line is that tech skills can't wait. "Whatever course of action is taken, it's important to jump-start plans today so your organization can be future-ready tomorrow," Khan said. Continued attention and ongoing assessment of skills gaps, especially related to technology needs, need to be at the top of every HR leader's "must-do" list in 2023.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SHRM-SCP, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience.