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The quest for digital skills

Posted by Ron Diorio on

The quest for digital skills is an Economist Intelligence Unit report on the supply and demand of digital skills across four industries: financial services, healthcare, retail and manufacturing.

The research is based on an online survey of 422 European and US executives, from functions including strategy and business development, marketing, sales and human resources. Survey data is supported by in-depth interviews with senior commentators and experts, including:

Susana Berlevy, digital HR director, Lloyds Banking Group
Elizabeth Cowper, HR and people-development director, Harvey Nichols
Jessica Federer, head of digital development, Bayer
Robert Mahowald, vice-president, IDC
Rich Pearson, senior vice-president, Upwork
Peter Sondergaard, senior vice-president, Gartner
Rachel Weiss, vice-president of digital innovation and entrepreneurship, L’Oréal US

Key findings: 

- Most companies are worried about a looming skills gap. The vast majority (94%) of executives cite a “moderate” or “severe” digital skills gap. Financial services and manufacturing had the largest enterprise-wide skills deficits, while healthcare and retail survey participants were concerned with department-specific shortages

- Cyber-security and web/mobile development are the most important digital competencies today. “Big data” will top the list by 2018

- Internal opposition to creating new digital jobs is cited as a hiring obstacle by 49% of respondents. Older workers are more resistant to digital transition than their younger colleagues, the survey shows: 80% of companies face internal resistance to digital transition of processes and work among older members of the workforce

- Over one-third of companies (37%) believe that digital workers have no desire to work in their industries, a problem particularly acute in retail and manufacturing

- Companies are finding skills gap “workarounds”. Companies are seeking solutions beyond conventional hiring. Of all respondents, 55% have embarked on digital training of existing staff, while 47% of companies outsource digital functions.

- Digital skills gaps vary considerably across industries, depending on how digital is reshaping their commercial landscape. Retailers are primarily concerned with smart-product development and web and mobile, as customers expect to research, view and buy goods on an array of platforms. Financial services firms, by contrast, are mainly worried about having adequate cyber-security skills to defend themselves against hackers, while manufacturers struggle with a big data skills gap as they try to produce efficiently in the Industry 4.0 era.



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