Talent skilled in both business and technology is really what today’s digital businesses need

The notion of the skills shortage has become a commonplace lament among business leaders. Their experience of being unable to find suitable candidates is the result of several parallel trends connected to the tectonic shift in the economy caused by digitization.

New technological possibilities change the nature of almost all occupations or create entirely new fields of work. Research by recruitment consultancy Vacancysoft notes a 105% increase in advertised technology roles in England and Wales from 2020 to 2021. Given this jump in demand, competition for talent between employers becomes fierce.

The situation in the UK just one case of a global phenomenon. Nexford University, a next-generation online university platform, surveyed employers worldwide. It estimates 85 million jobs will be unfilled by 2030 due to skill shortages. Furthermore, according to Nexford’s data, 87% of employers worldwide report a lack of talent.

Analyzing more than 51 million jobs posted between 2017 and 2020, labor market data company Emsi Burning Glass found employers have increased degree requirements for many roles. In particular, applicants for middle-skill positions now need to conform to higher educational standards.

While the direct connection between digitization and the lack of technology talent has been widely discussed, an aspect routinely overlooked is the skill gap’s second dimension: business skills. Qualifications in technical subjects alone are often not enough to contribute to a company’s business model. Skills sets like programming, mathematics, or engineering create value through their combination with a good sense for business.

History teaches how technological revolutions had a gradual impact on society. While the initial inception of a ground-breaking idea is the domain of technologists and researchers, often an equal amount of ingenuity is required to scale-up technologies for mass use. The major achievement of the likes of Elon Musk or Bill Gates was to realize new technologies’ ideal use cases.

The particular challenge contemporary tech poses derives from its unprecedented complexity. To acquire a thorough understanding of today’s technologies – think blockchain or AI algorithms – specializing is essential.

The solution to bridge the skill gap is straightforward: business and technology need to be taught together from the outset.

Our two-dimensional skills gap is not an inevitable but passing woe accompanying transformative economic change. Instead, the issue is largely due to current higher education models not heeding the signs of our time. Legacy education institutions are failing to create degree programs to cater to the digital economy’s demand for tech-savvy, business-conscious talent.

In clinging to curricula which cement the disconnect between technology and business education, universities exacerbate the shortage of talent. This leaves bright jobseekers behind since they are unable to acquire the right skillset – having either one without the other.

An education system detached from the reality in the labor market spells long-term economic obstacles, because reskilling is a slow moving and expensive process. Essentially it means teaching someone twice over. Workers already specialized will be reluctant to pursue another degree or qualification. Today’s work culture is just beginning to shift towards employers institutionalizing mechanisms to support employees’ upskilling, like in-house procedures to deliver higher education in cooperation with education providers. However, current reskilling efforts fall short of remedying the skills gap.

Alas, digital transformation’s disruption can be counteracted by digital means, too.

A trend closely connected to the skills gap is what has become known as Great Resignation during the pandemic – employees leaving their companies in large numbers. This wave of a voluntary career change is accompanied by increased adoption of online learning and EdTech solutions.

Being flexible, accessible, and more affordable, online degrees provide a versatile tool to accelerate up- and reskilling. At the same time, we see pioneering employers, for example retail giants Walmart and Amazon, waking up to the problem and working to create an ingrained culture of education – including partial or full compensation of employees pursuing a university degree while on the job.

 

Next-generation educational institutions can act as a corrective to realign employer needs and workers’ skills. They should act as service providers at the connection point between learners and companies, maintaining continuous conversation with both sides.

Online university platforms today employ advanced methods to monitor, evaluate, and personalize degree programs. Data analytics means learners can showcase and evidence their academic credentials easily and reliably. Employers, on the other hand, benefit from early insights into learners’ progress and the ability to finetune recruiting decisions.

Affordable, high-quality online degree programs are readily available today. Effective reskilling is at everyone’s fingertips thanks to EdTech companies breaking with traditional education’s outdated curricula.

For tech-educated, business-proficient workers, the skills gap presents not an obstacle but an unparalleled career opportunity.

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