Services for key clients interrupted.  Adverse media coverage. A big financial hit. These are just some of the consequences of a serious cyber breach. By Maria Balbas, President, elev8 digital skilling

Recently, it was payroll company SD Worx that found itself in the eye of the storm when a cyber attack meant it had to shut down servers for a week, forcing major clients to find other ways to pay their staff. 

While cyber attacks make the headlines, they are just one symptom of a multi-faceted challenge facing businesses across Europe – that of the dearth of much-needed digital skills in today’s workforce. 

With many businesses finding it hard to build an adequate pipeline of talent in this field, they are not only more vulnerable to attacks like the one suffered by SD Worx, they also risk failing to capitalise on the commercial advantages that come when they can draw on talent capable of fully exploiting the digital economy. 

The good news is that businesses do not always have to look very far to build the pipeline of talent they need. In fact, with the right approach, talent in existing teams across the business can be re-skilled, pivoting into the tech roles vital to keep the business competitive, and safe. 

To fill tech skills gaps, first you have to uncover them

No business has unlimited resources to allocate to training and development, and in times of economic uncertainty, budgets are likely to be under even more pressure. 

For maximum efficiency, any business looking to bolster its digital skills pipeline must first audit the skills that already exist in the workforce, before cross-referencing what they have with what they need, both now and in the future. With this approach, it is possible to align investment to skillsets that will support the business’ long-term success. 

Today, businesses undergoing a digital transformation are most likely to uncover tech skills gaps in AI, Cloud and IoT technology, as well as cybersecurity. Recent data suggests that 63% of businesses say their staff are lacking the necessary digital skills to use AI, and there will be 3.5m unfilled jobs in the cybersecurity sector by 2025, according to research from Cybersecurity Ventures.

Some of the specific skills businesses will want to map include knowledge of programming languages such as Python and Java, which are helpful in the use of AI tools, and a high-level understanding of mathematical fields including statistics, linear algebra or algorithms, which are transferrable to roles related to data analysis and use of big data. 

Beyond technical skills 

Filling technical skills gaps is key – but alongside, as they map their skills pipeline, businesses should not lose sight of the ‘power’ skills that act as ‘multipliers’, allowing tech professionals to maximise their impact for the business. Power skills include communication, collaboration, and leadership – and equip individuals to become empathetic team members, effective managers and visionary leaders. By creating training and upskilling programmes that blend power and technical skills, businesses can ensure their digital transformation will go further, faster. 

In addition, where teams understand that upskilling programmes support both business objectives and personal career development, the result is better staff retention and loyalty, which is key for businesses locked in a fierce war for talent. 

Investment in talent should always be a priority  

In times of economic turbulence training and development budgets can come under pressure as businesses look to make savings. This, however, should not be the case: when training and upskilling is planned strategically, it is inherently future-focused and designed to ensure that the business has a talent pipeline that equips it to meet the changing needs of clients and customers today and tomorrow. 

Viewed through that lens, continuing to upskill talent is a strategic investment and not a cost. Well planned programmes future-proof the business and improve morale and engagement. Pressing pause, even in response to a downturn, can risk the business being left behind, exacerbating skills gaps, making it more difficult for it to position itself to capitalise when the market turns. 

A deep pool of digital talent is the best way to safeguard your business, now and in the future 

Amidst the rapid changes of the fourth industrial revolution, organisations that will come out on top are likely to be those with a highly skilled workforce capable of innovating and adapting, that combines technical and soft ‘power’ skills.   

Navigating this shifting terrain is not easy – PwC’s Future of Work and Skills survey (2021) indicates that only 26% of business leaders agreed they are able to identify the skills the organisation will need in future – but it is necessary. 

A reliable pipeline of in-house tech talent brings multiple benefits to businesses: in the immediate term it is vital protection against the regular menace of cyber attacks, and in the medium to long term it is key to the business remaining competitive and adapting to meet changing customer needs and to capitalise on emerging technologies.