Filling the Digital Skills Gap

Pharmaceutical Executive

More than half a century ago, way before anyone had dreamt up the notion of digital disruption.

More than half a century ago, way before anyone had dreamt up the notion of digital disruption, a small group of American economists started talking about the role that people play in the creation of economic value. They came to the conclusion that businesses that invested in their people saw the same positive returns they did when they spent money on the latest manufacturing equipment.

Peter Houston

This came to be known as ‘Human Capital’ defined as the stock of competencies, knowledge, social and personality attributes, embodied in the ability to perform labour. The belief was, like any other form of capital, investing in staff development could improve returns.

Fifty years on, from our front row seats at the break-neck progress of the digital economy, we would readily accept that it is only common sense to invest in developing the skillsets of your staff.

When Justin B. Smith joined the Bloomberg Media Group as CEO after bringing the Atlantic Media Group back from the brink, the first things he did was write to all his staff telling them that he valued talent above all else. “…the organizations that recruit and maintain their top talent - and manage it well - will win,” he wrote.

No argument here, but when it comes to digital transformation, how do you define and develop that talent? What is the stock of competencies, knowledge, social and personality attributes that embody the ability to perform?

‘Nothing is more important than our people’ is too often a bad corporate joke rather than an HR aphorism. And unfortunately, business investment in the development of digital talent still seems to be part of the gag.

2013’s ‘Digital Talent Gap’ report from Capgemini says only 46 percent of the 150 executives it interviewed globally were investing in the development of digital skills. This despite broad acknowledgement of the importance of digital – 87 percent saw digital transformation as a competitive opportunity.

The report notes that mobile and social technologies and sophisticated analytical tools are having an impact way beyond the IT department. The need for digital training is company-wide and, as technology cycles shorten, the skills development cycle is shortening. “Employees must now refresh their skills more frequently if they wish to stay relevant in this rapidly changing digital environment,” say the report’s authors.

Capgemini’s research, conducted with the MIT Center for Digital Business, shows that 77 percent of companies consider missing digital skills as the key hurdle to their digital transformation. Over 90 percent of the executives interviewed stated that their businesses did not have the necessary skills in the areas of social media, mobile, internal social networks, process automation and performance monitoring and analysis.

There is no shortage of digital training out there. Type ‘digital marketing training’ into your favourite search engine and you’ll be overwhelmed by opportunities to spend your training budget. From bootcamps to 3-day MBAs, in-house seminars to e-learning, training to bring marketers up to speed with digital is big business.

But signing your team up for a couple of courses isn’t the whole answer. A key challenge uncovered by Capgemini was how out of sync training efforts are: only 4 percent of companies ensured that their training efforts were aligned with their overall digital strategy.

The bottom line is that technical talent needs to develop a strong understanding of business requirements, while business professionals must become fluent in the language of technology. But beyond this, the whole organization has to develop a deep understanding of the audience’s needs, regardless of the digital tools used to serve them.

I’ve written previously about the digital skills gap on the Pharmexec Blog. Key concerns listed in that post included:

• Spotty levels of knowledge, skill levels and experience at all levels of the organisation.
• Missed opportunities in existing training and skills acquisition efforts.
• A need for solid, measurable, and accurate digital talent education.

In that post I quoted Rich Meyer writing about this subject on his World of DTC Marketing blog. If you’ll forgive me, I think it’s worth repeating.

“Those who commit to ramping up the proper talent development programs, with effective education, implementation of measurable standards, and focused training and hiring practices will ultimately win market share and achieve desired business outcomes.”

To put that a different way, if you accept the 50-year old theory that investing in ‘Human Capital’ brings real competitive advantage, then surely it’s madness not be working hard to get your best people up to speed and closed the digital skills gap once and for all.