Learning & Development

Bridging the digital talent gap

Bridging the talent gap

Working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the critical role of digital in accelerating change in how we work. 

Organisations are grappling with pivoting to digital-first business models because Covid-19 has had such a big impact on global economies and societies. The upshot for many employers is that they need digital skills to help build future-focused, resilient organisations.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that more than 100 million new jobs could be created by 2022 as economies embrace technology. It also estimates that 54% of all employees will require reskilling by 2022. The WEF also cites research from the European Commission shows that 37% of workers in Europe lack basic digital skills. In the UK, Accenture says the data skills gap alone is costing the UK economy $13.17bn a year.

The need to bridge the digital talent gap is not lost on UK employers, even in the midst of a pandemic. According to the Open University’s Business Barometer of 1,000 employers, 49% of employers plan to recruit at a lower level and train up candidates over the next year to meet skills gaps, compared with less than one in three (30%) last year. Skills gaps remain a challenge as 63% of organisations have stopped filling vacant roles due to the pandemic.

Research from Microsoft shows that 80% of business leaders think digital skills will play an important role in the post-Covid-19 recovery, but 69% say their organisation is facing a digital skills gap.

The Confederation of British Industry says the skills challenge is a significant issue, suggesting that nine in 10 employees will need some form of reskilling by 2030.

How organisations can bridge the digital talent gap

1. Start with the business need

In order to understand what skills are needed, employers must be clear on their vision and goals for the short, medium and long term. Being clear on desired business outcomes will help organisations identify what skills are needed to deliver on those outcomes. Only then can organisations start to build an effective strategy for developing digital skills and talent. Business need and skills are two key learning metrics that business leaders need to clarify in order to drive performance and to stop haemorrhaging money.

The OU’s Business Barometer shows that organisations spent £6.6 billion to plug short term gaps in 2020, up from £4.4 billion in 2019. Looking outside the organisation for the right skills is an expensive and potentially ineffective option. A much better solution is reskilling and upskilling your current workforce, not chasing skills that are in limited supply and that cost a small fortune to purchase. In order to find a budget for reskilling (which is the biggest barrier to investing in digital skills, according to the Microsoft research) you need a clear vision for the business.

2. Make learning and development accessible and employee-driven

Upskilling and reskilling staff to bridge the digital talent gap requires organisations to build a learning and development infrastructure that puts the learner in the driving seat, enabling them to manage their own learning and achieve their own development goals in ways that best suit them.

This means creating a technology infrastructure that is easy to access and that supports employees in developing new skills. To deliver on this, L&D will need to be highly responsive to learners’ needs so you’ll need technology that provides actionable insights, an intuitive content management system and ways to engage and nudge learners so that they can achieve their goals.

3. Provide ongoing support for development

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shift to working from home, reskilling and upskilling initiatives will need to be digital first. But as research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows, there are many challenges to working from home. These include reduced mental wellbeing, reduced staff interaction and cooperation and staff motivation and engagement. Supporting virtual team working will become a key role for organisations – and L&D teams – if colleagues are going to succeed at learning new skills and putting them into practice.

For this reason, business leaders and managers need to create a vision for remote team working that is based on trust and autonomy. This will motivate and empower workers to learn and develop the skills needed to support organisational – and personal/professional – goals.

4. Communicate the value of reskilling and upskilling

As with all workforce initiatives, if you are not raising awareness of the value of what you are doing and reinforcing the human stories of success that lie behind it, then they are far less likely to stick. Reskilling and upskilling are positive initiatives and employers need to share why they are positive, why and how individuals will benefit from learning new skills and the impact this will have on them personally, professionally and for the team and wider organisation.

At an executive level, gaining board level buy-in to investing in digital skills can also be a challenge. This is a significant barrier, according to the Microsoft research. So, ensure your communications efforts include all stakeholders.

Communications are often overlooked in reskilling and upskilling initiatives so make sure you put them at the heart of yours. These initiatives positively affect lives and the success of the business. Make sure you share how and why.


Organisations in the UK have historically turned to the labour market to solve their skills challenges. That is no longer a viable option. The need for digital skills is too great and buying in skills can be prohibitively expensive. That’s why it is incumbent on employers to create reskilling and upskilling strategies that will develop the skills needed for now, the medium and longer-term. Learning teams, and the learning infrastructure, will be key enablers in helping to bridge the digital talent gap.

Use a platform that supports your new ways of working and learning. 5app can help in supporting your L&D strategy, creating a learning culture and in aligning learning with the business needs and objectives.

Get in touch to find out more.

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