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Tomorrow’s talent pipeline: preparing for a digital future

The current labour market is in the midst of an evolution. Across all sectors, digital transformation is changing the way that businesses operate and shifting the in-demand skills for the workplace of the future. This 2019 Salary Guide revealed that two in five UK organisations (38%) consider digitalisation to be the main evolving force in the workplace today.

The current labour market is in the midst of an evolution. Across all sectors, digital transformation is changing the way that businesses operate and shifting the in-demand skills for the workplace of the future. This 2019 Salary Guide revealed that two in five UK organisations (38%) consider digitalisation to be the main evolving force in the workplace today.

With the UK talent market lacking the digital skills needed to help businesses adapt to digitisation, AI and automation, it’s no surprise that companies are locked in a ‘war for talent’ – competing with one another to hire skilled professionals to help their businesses adapt.

Furthermore, recent ONS figures show record-breaking levels of employment and a burgeoning ‘buyer’s market’, further intensifying this war for talent.

This is creating problems for businesses in both hiring and retaining key staff. Candidates with in-demand skillsets are now more comfortable than ever negotiating higher salaries and promotions, as well as workplace benefits.

In this challenging market, companies are increasingly looking at ways in which they can embrace digitalisation and fill their talent pipeline.

The growing digital skills gap
Developing the right talent pipeline continues to be a priority for UK businesses, especially as the fourth industrial revolution impacts future skills requirements. New research revealed that one in three senior executives (31%) believe employee retention and training are the two biggest talent management concerns they face.

Some of the most obvious talent requirements caused by digital disruption stem from an increase in technology-focused jobs, opening the market for new professionals specialising in in-demand areas, such as cognitive computing, blockchain, virtual reality, IoT and cyber-security.

However, this is only half the picture. As technologies such as artificial intelligence begin to automate more manual tasks in operations and processes, more time will be available for employees to tackle strategic, innovative and customer-focused tasks. This means that while technical skills are important, softs skills also play an increasingly valuable role.

As such, strategic planning, problem-solving and interpersonal and communication skills are becoming more important than ever for a business’ success. These skills are notoriously difficult to train, so we are seeing hiring managers prioritise candidates who show characteristics of adaptability, coachability, a willingness to learn and resilience.

Finding the gaps
As the skills required for the future evolve, it is increasingly important for companies to assess their existing workforce to identify any skills gaps. While there can be a number of ways of achieving this, a skills audit can be a structured an efficient way of doing so.

A skills audit is the process of assessing your employee’s skills via a questionnaire or one-to-one interviews, and can be an efficient way of understanding where the skills gaps lie, which can then be used to inform training and development plans, as well as a company’s recruitment strategy.

Assessing the knowledge that already rests within your workforce can also help companies develop the careers of existing employees and improve retention rates.

Conducting a skills audit is a multi-step process which requires time and effort. Collaboration with HR departments can be crucial in creating a competency framework will help guide employees on an organisation’s values and its requirements for achieving its objectives. Maintaining clear communication throughout the process will also ensure that employees responding to the skills audit questionnaire are kept in the loop.

Once all the meetings have been conducted and the skills audit questionnaires have been returned, you’ll have a far clearer picture of where in-house training is required, and which areas require new roles or interim staff.

Hiring and development
Once skills gaps have been identified, companies need to think carefully about how best to fill them, through a blend of training and development initiatives for existing employees and taking on new hires.

Providing training to current employees through a combination of mentoring, internal and external courses is not only beneficial to filling skills gaps, but also can help your workforce feel more valued as they continue to develop their skillsets and grow within the business. Providing exciting and rewarding projects and empowering employees to further perfect their skillsets will also help retain existing talent.

However it is also important to keep track of results. All training programmes that are implemented should be measurable with clear targets and objectives which are quantifiable to the aims of the business.

Alongside training, companies must hire new employees to meet their evolving skills requirements, and here a flexible approach is key. When suitable permanent employees may not be available or necessary, tapping into the pool of highly-skilled interim professionals with project-based assignments will not only allow companies to plug their most pressing skill-gaps in the short-term, but will also help upskill and train permanent staff in the long-term as they adopt best practices.

With interim professionals often possessing highly specialised skillsets, companies can benefit enormously from this internal transfer of knowledge as they look to plug their skills gap and future-proof their workforce for the digital age.

What next?
It is clear that companies must prepare themselves to face the digital transformation ahead by understanding the skills they have in their team and acting now to prepare themselves for the future.

By harnessing a combination of internal development and mentoring programmes, and hiring permanent and interim professionals who possess the right blend of technical and soft skills, firms can ensure they are ready to take full advantage of the technologies that are transforming the businesses of tomorrow.

Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

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