The Myth of Digital Talent Scarcity

There’s a common misconception that employees need technical skills to succeed in the digital era. Learn more about the realities.

It’s only natural to think of technology when considering the trend of digitalization sweeping organizations today. After all, new technologies are everywhere.  Artificial intelligence, robots, virtual reality, e-commerce, drones … the list is almost endless. And, certainly, new digital technologies are one of the forces driving some of the leading organizations in the world:  Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Uber and so on.

So, it’s not surprising that when deciding on the talent they need to succeed in this world, many organizations are drawn to technical talent.  Be careful, however, for this line of thinking has generated one of the most pervasive talent myths of the digital era.

Organizations caught up in this myth believe that the most important talent for them to attract, hire, develop, and retain is technical talent.  And when they look at the pace of new technologies, they assume that most employees don’t have or can’t acquire the technical skills they need quickly enough.  It’s easy to assume that there’s a widespread scarcity of “digital talent”.

To be fair, some of the fastest growing jobs with a scarcity of available talent are indeed technical jobs:  data scientists, software engineers, and web developers to name a few.  But, these jobs are the exception, not the rule.

At SHL, we’ve looked at the reality surrounding the availability of digital talent and the evidence paints a very different picture for the workforce as a whole.  Three key points emerged from working with hundreds of organizations and the millions of individuals and leaders they are looking to attract, retain, develop and manage in high change, digital business environments:

  1. While most jobs do require technical skills, most of the competencies required to be successful in today’s digital business environments are not technical skills at all. They’re softer, people-centered skills, like learning, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration.  Other “techie” abilities such as delivering results and showing initiative are equally important competencies.  No technically-savvy employee will succeed in today’s digital environment without these competencies.
  2. The lack of more technical skills themselves is not a ubiquitous challenge. Employees don’t work with new technologies only when they’re doing their jobs.  Due to the growing use of digital technologies outside the workplace, most individuals have technical skills that carry over into the workplace.  How many of us use cellphones for both personal and work-related reasons? Order our groceries online? Conduct our banking transactions via the internet?
  3. Lastly, employees themselves don’t buy into this myth. Seven out of ten employees consider themselves to be experts or fully proficient with their work-supplied digital technology.  Clearly many organizations are already doing a great job equipping employees with the skills they need to use those “cool tools”.

The greatest danger of believing in the idea of digital talent scarcity is that it can lead organizations to a significant skill imbalance.  Ironically, in looking for more technical talent, they’re prone to building a workforce that lacks the full range of knowledge, skills, abilities and experience that they need to succeed in the increasingly digital future that lies ahead.

In our experience, the best organizations start by understanding the unique profiles of employees they need for the full range of their digital business contexts, and then attract, develop, and retain employees for each of those profiles using objective, science-based people insight.


Author: Mark Van Buren