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05 Jul 2022

It is Time to Talk About the Digital Skills Drought

It is Time to Talk About the Digital Skills Drought

Now, more than ever in history, workers from around the world are intertwined with the digital landscape. The pandemic forced workers home and onto their laptops and, since then, emerging technologies plus a continuing trend towards remote work has ensured the relationship between humans and computers has only strengthened. 

This digital world demands digital skills. In 2019 an APEC report found that 69% of job postings in the United States, Canada, Singapore, and Australia required digital skills from applicants. The same report found that 85% of jobs in the EU required basic digital skills at the very least. A separate analysis by the Brookings Institute found that, from 2002 to 2016, the number of jobs requiring medium to high digital skills tripled to 70%.

Demand and Supply

This demand is simply outpacing the supply of workers. The APEC report continues to say that 57% of all organisations admitted to having difficulty filling ICT specialist roles. The problem is worse for large businesses where 64% had experienced the same issue. A shocking study from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that 1 in 6 Americans were unable to use email, web search and other basic online tools. Those businesses which cannot easily find digitally competent workers lose their competitive advantage and fail to implement newer technologies as they lack workers to use them. This shortage is not just having an impact on hiring departments, it's having an impact on the digital safety of countless companies too. 

Inherent in the shortage of digitally skilled workers is a shortage of competent cybersecurity professionals all in a time when cybersecurity attacks are becoming increasingly common. One survey found that 8 in 10 organisations have suffered at least one breach they could attribute to a lack of cybersecurity skills or awareness. It has been estimated that as much as $11.5 trillion of cumulative GDP growth is at risk in G20 countries if the digital skills gap is not addressed. In 2021 alone, the cost of cybercrime was estimated to be $6 trillion, while 76% of organisations expect they will be successfully attacked in the next 12 months. 

There is no Quick Fix

Companies may understand that there is a problem but the fixing won't be so easy. The solution is not money but rather a reversal in culture and expectations, an end to the so-called 'cyber-elite'. Highly qualified individuals from prestigious schools are few and far in-between. While highly attractive, these workers, like every other tech professional, have to relearn and adapt to emerging technologies like everyone else. Organisations need to begin hiring workers with desirable skills, not workers with desirable schooling, and working on retraining and upskilling their current workforce. A McKinsey 2021 survey cited by the RAND corporation found that 71-90% of surveyed managers and executives experienced positive impacts from investing in reskilling their workers. Rather than hire to address a shortage, companies are continuing to find the most success when looking within their own ranks.

Just as important as the hiring of workers, is their retention. When it comes to employee retention, organisations have to work with the expectations of equality and diversity from their employees. According to a 2021 joint study from the NCSC and KPMG, 25% of respondents say they faced a career barrier related to diversity and inclusion. Twenty-two percent of respondents admitted that, in the course of their career, they faced at least one instance of discrimination. The report summarises the emotions among employees saying that “...there is a simple expectation and a demand that all avenues of modern life, whether in the public or private spheres, will create fair and equal environments where individuals of all backgrounds and characteristics can be themselves and thrive”. Cybersecurity leaders should look at creating a more diverse, representative and inclusive workforce to keep pace with other sectors of the economy.

Let’s discuss what can be done to address the cyber/digital skills gap. Join us at Olympia London for International Cyber Expo on the 27th - 28th of September 2022!

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