How to bridge the gap amid increased global competition for digital talent

Marc Correa Domenech outlines three disparate areas of the digital workforce that each require their own nuanced approach to management

Gilaxia/Getty Images

There is a lack of highly skilled digital workers in the world. While this was already the case long before the pandemic, the Covid crisis has brought it into sharp focus. As long ago as 2017, McKinsey reported that 87 per cent of senior executives believed that their companies were not addressing this gap adequately. According to the Boston Consulting Group, 40 per cent of digital workers were actively looking for a new job in 2020, and 73 per cent of digital workers were planning to change jobs in the next two to three years. A 2022 study by Salesforce also revealed that 73 per cent of respondents feel they do not have the digital skills needed by businesses, and 76 per cent do not feel ready for the future. This shows a clear mismatch between digital talent supply and demand. This mismatch explains the shortage of digital talent, the high mobility of the digitally skilled workforce, and the increased competition for digital talent.

In this new scenario of competition for talent, one of the side effects of the pandemic has been the hybridisation of the world of work. With 87 per cent of workers willing to work remotely, according to LinkedIn, companies can now look for available talent further afield, and so the competition to attract the best talent has become even fiercer. The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ and ‘Great Re-evaluation’ have exacerbated this scarcity.

The talent gap is a fact. While the temptation is to close it with traditional talent retention strategies, we suggest a counterintuitive approach. We need to accept that it is not possible to retain talent indefinitely, because the most talented digital workers need to keep moving in order to grow and develop. If we have done our job properly as talent curators and managers, then when these individuals consider their next move, they may come back to us. This, rather than the traditional retention rate, will become the proof of good talent management. We need to accept that the talent pool will be characterised by short cycles of development involving several organisations, each capitalising on its own investment, as well as the investment made by other organisations.

The talent gap requires a level of granularity so that we can find strategies to soften the tension caused by this gap. We have identified three profiles of digital talent segments that need differing talent management strategies:

Digital and technology specialists

These are the experts in the ‘hard’ world of digital business. As specialists, they are seeking a developmental experience, not just a career path. They are looking for technical rather than career development. The employer value proposition means creating the best environment with the best available technology to allow them to climb not only the managerial ladders but also the technical one.

Working level digital talent

These users have a working level of digital and collaboration technologies. According to the Salesforce report, only a third feel they have the social media skills needed for the workplace over the next five years. To bridge this gap, rather than relying on new hires, a rapid upskilling process is needed to avoid this gap widening over the years. Developing a powerful employee value proposition that nurtures this talent by leveraging the constant updating of skills would make the organisation an attractive prospect to return to after a short cycle in another organisation

Digital talent in leaders

Less than half of the senior leadership reported by Salesforce’s Digital Skill Index lack the digital skills needed to do their jobs. According to an MIT Sloan Management Review paper published by Weill et al in 2019, companies whose board members have experience in digital business saw their sales, margins, and market capitalisation grow. These executives need to be good users of the digital resources, but also to understand the potentialities and best implementation strategies for new digital resources to disrupt their business model, organisation, and way of working. Rather than an upskilling process, organisations need to help develop new mindsets. Technology is the new grammar for executives, and they need to excel at this.

The lack of digital talent is a fact. Organisations need to encourage short cycles of talent management to fulfil the digital talent needed by organisations, but a higher level of granularity of talent segments will allow them to develop strategies to bridge this digital talent gap.

Marc Correa Domenech is dean of the Executive Education Unit at Esade