How to win the war for skilled talent

Laura Mullan
|May 16|magazine19 min read

Thanks to technology, the way we work is set to change forever. You need only look at the impact of driverless cars to see just how disruptive the next generation of technology will be. In fact, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report, as many as 375mn workers (or 14% of the global workforce) might need to switch occupation categories because of digitization, automation and artificial intelligence (AI). It’s a mammoth shift for workers, but it’ll impact business too. Tomorrow’s business leaders will need more analytical, digital-savvy skills than ever before if they want to keep up with the blistering pace of digital transformation - but will companies be able to find these skills? Research by the Korn Ferry Institute forecasts that the existing talent shortage will reach its worst levels in 2030, whereby an expected 85.2mn job openings will go unfulfilled worldwide. In previous decades, the ‘war for talent’ dominated the headlines, but looking forward it seems that it will be the skills gap that will define the business agenda.

An analytical mind

Many tout data as ‘the new oil’, and as a result, data literacy has quickly become a highly-coveted skill for today’s business leaders. Gartner has even gone as far as to predict that, by 2020, 80% of organizations will have to start to roll out data literacy initiatives to upskill their workforce. One such company, powering ahead with such training is data visualization giant, Tableau Software. The firm recently launched Academics, a program that has helped around 680,000 students and faculties use Tableau’s software, and on top of this, it has also partnered with British training partner AVADO, to launch apprenticeships and training programs in the UK. In an exclusive interview with Gigabit, CEO Adam Selipsky, said: “Recent estimates from the IBC suggest that between now and 2025, the amount of data in the world that's subject to analysis is going to grow 50-fold. I think a lot of organizations are just going to get crushed under the weight of that data whilst many others are going to see brand new opportunities to develop insights and make better decisions based on all of that data. Regardless of whether your organization sees data as a problem or an opportunity, there's an urgent need for analytical capabilities to deal with it, and again, to make better decisions faster.”

Diversity matters

It’s no secret that many businesses have a diversity problem. In fact, according to stark research conducted by INvolve, more people called David and Steve lead FTSE 100 companies than women and ethnic minorities. Diversity matters but recent research shows that it also pays: in a 2015 study, McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Bringing a broad range of perspectives, diversity is a critical asset for businesses looking to address the talent gap. For Neelam Sandhu, Senior Director of Business Operations, Office of the CEO at BlackBerry, one of the biggest hurdles lie in the lack of female role models in male-dominated fields. “Women don’t have those same role models or examples as men to look up to or emulate,” she observes. “But I do think that's changing. For example, we can see that two leaders of General Motors – the CEO and the CFO – are both women.”  Another hurdle lies in education. “We need to increase the pipeline of women in STEM and that starts with education,” adds Sandhu. “We need to work on creating an environment where women feel comfortable learning STEM topics. Not only is the professional environment male-dominated, but the education environment is too. So, creating that environment or community where women feel comfortable in STEM is important.”

Reverse Engineering

Any CIO will admit that digital transformation isn’t just about new gadgets and technologies, it’s also about the people. At its annual Dell Tech forum, for example, Dell Technologies singled out workforce transformation as a crucial stand of any digital disruption program. Within the firm, Dell Technologies has implemented what it describes as ‘reverse engineering’, for example, whereby it pairs more seasoned employees with new graduates to encourage cross-generational peer-to-peer training. “I think it’s been a huge learning curve for us,” says Dayne Turbitt, Senior Vice President of Dell EMC’s Enterprise Sales Division. “We paired legacy employees with millennials and this helps to break down the paradigms you develop over decades of business. It makes the business open to new ideas, it fosters a new culture of innovation. We’ve done some amazing things in the past year and it’s down to this speed of innovation.”

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Procurement value

Many procurement professionals will tell you that their job is no longer a support function, it’s a business driver. With procurement now at the fore of many business strategies, skilled workers in this field are in high demand. Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) has played a pivotal role in the professionalization of procurement across the world, offering a range of highly-valued training courses. Sam Achampong, Regional Head & General Manager of CIPS MENA, believes that this is crucial to the upskilling of the procurement field. “We work very closely with companies to create a licensed procurement function whereby everyone in their procurement team is qualified to do procurement. We have created the infrastructure to make qualifications available through an increased number of study centers, universities and accredited degrees. For people, we have also set up a number of professional networks that support these people so that they can continue to share knowledge.” Achampong also underlines the importance of working with local communities, noting: “The key thing is or us to be working with local people in this region, so we've worked very hard with the prominent local organizations to make sure that we are helping the capability development of Middle East locals to get credible procurement qualifications and skills.”

People power

Looking forward, it’s clear that if you want to build the workforce of the future you need to act proactively. Business leaders should be vigilant about workforce gaps and be aware of the skills needed in the future. They should also create a robust plan to hire, upskill and contract the right skills and be sure to establish a dedicated cross-functional team, with a forward-thinking HR team. In a recent survey, McKinsey pointed out that 75% of executives were optimistic that reskilling and training would help to fill at least half of their talent needs. Amid the war for talent and hiring difficulties, businesses need to be productive if they want to tackle the challenge of skills and training. It may be easy to get caught up in talk of digital disruption or supply chain transformation but without the people behind it, it’s near impossible.

“We should never underestimate the power and need of human interaction,” agrees Johan Reventberg, President EMEA at JDA Software. “The risk is that if your company doesn’t educate and train your workforce, you will leave the people behind. If people get left behind, they will then be a threat to themselves and to the companies because they're not going to keep pace with the company. If we don’t train our people, we're not enabling the workforce of the future.”