Jul 22, 2016

How to Narrow the Digital Skills Gap in Your Organization

by Digital Marketing Institute

Considering 78% of internet users conduct research online and nearly half admit to being influenced by reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media before purchasing, it’s difficult to understand why so many organizations lag behind when it comes to digital skills.

A few years ago, assets such as blogs and social media were considered quirky novelties, but now they are essential components of the digital marketing machine. In order to compete and ultimately thrive in such a competitive environment, it pays dividends to have people in-house who know how to successfully utilize every channel available.

With the lack of digital skills identified as a significant and growing hurdle to digital transformation, it seems that the struggle to find suitable digital talent has become a thorn in the side of many businesses, big and small. New research ‘Skills for Digital Transformation’ revealed that only 27% of organizations’ have a clearly defined plan for implementing their digital strategies, while just 17% claim their company has the personnel with the skills to assist in digital transformation.

In this fast-paced digital world, consumers are logged on and connected 24/7, in ways that seemed impossible a decade ago. As a result, customers are now firmly in the driving seat and demand a top-quality user experience that prioritizes and addresses their needs. This shift in power has left many organizations struggling to find their digital feet. But, there are ways to narrow this expanding gap between skills and demand.

Lack of Digital Skills | How to Narrow the Digital Skills Gap in Your Organization

Assess your organizations’ digital capabilities

When it comes to digital talent, an Econsultancy survey reported that 30% of businesses found sourcing employees with the right skills as a “nightmare” while marketers are struggling with the tenets of modern marketing such as using data, developing personalization and contextualization capabilities, and optimization. With this level of difficulty reported from employees and employers, tactics need to be employed to find the right digital skills for your business.

While recruiting externally is an obvious route, it can prove expensive - the cost of hiring one employee is estimated to be $5,000 or more - and time-consuming with no guarantee of success at the end of the process. Focusing on people that are already in your business who know what makes it tick and are committed to your brand can prove to be a more fruitful path.

When it came to sourcing digital talent, British Airways took an innovative approach. Despite a global workforce of 40,000 employees and a century-old legacy, the global organization found themselves struggling to find the right digital expertise. Not wanting to sit and wait for the talent to find them, their Chief Commercial Officer, Drew Crawly decided to make sure the company “was attractive enough to acquire the resources required to turbocharge our digital effort.”

So, the airline giant decided to ask their workforce about their digital capabilities. It turned out a selection of people in-house were running websites in their spare time and were keen to do the same at work.

“A lot of our talent is home-grown - mavericks who have their own businesses and have adapted their business models in an entrepreneurial way. It is important to find these people and leverage their skills.”

In addition, creating a talent scout recommendation employee program helped British Airways tap into the digital know-how of their employees and find the additional digital talent it was lacking.

Invest in digital training

According to Matthew Hook, managing director at global media agency Carat, too much time is wasted on short-term gains (for example, trying to wrestle for the attention of graduates from the same handful of universities), rather than addressing the necessity for long-term talent.

“Whilst we haven’t abruptly entered a world where TV viewing is dead, we do see the growth of digital convergence having a profound effect on every aspect of business, society and culture, driving an evolution across all categories, from banks to FMCG giants, to public services.” This, Hook believes, has created pressures and opportunities in many parts of the economy, from supply chain logistics to organizational design, but arguably nowhere has the effects of digital disruption been more keenly felt than in the availability of the appropriate talent.

For the telecoms giant Vodafone, weaknesses were identified in their employees' digital skillset that created hurdles when it came to competing in the digital marketplace. To combat this, they invested in customized, in-depth digital marketing programs that were integrated into their existing e-learning system and rolled out across the globe. The aim was to educate their workforce and improve their skills while training up new staff to a standardized level of expertise and knowledge within their organization.

The learning program yielded positive results and helped to close the skills gap within their organization, but also boost overall morale and productivity. By taking the time to build an educational strategy and give employees a platform to nurture their skills over time, an organization can cultivate talent with the tools to evolve with their environment and offer value to both existing and future staff.

Invest in digital training | How to Narrow the Digital Skills Gap in Your Organization

Respond to change

When it comes to an organization’s digital transformation, a common hurdle is buy-in from senior management. Essentially, this brave new digital world has prompted a massive cultural shift and in many cases, the people making the big decisions can be stuck in the past.

In order to recruit and retain talent, the workplace must become more open and less linear - a place where people can collaborate, communicate and most importantly, share information. Knowledge is power and in order to allure the right people with the right skills and promote a sense of loyalty, barriers need to be broken down concerning organizational structure. Sticking to a direct role and spending all day chained to one desk is becoming outdated, and in many cases, this lack of innovation is contributing to the widening of the digital skills gap.

With this in mind, the former American Tobacco Company plant that McKinney uses as their headquarters has an open plan design. This helps to promote a sense of community, rather than segregating employees into cubicles - and it has given the company an outlet for impromptu creative forums while offering greater transparency throughout the business. While software application Buffer took it one step further and abandoned the office completely to allow employees to work remotely and collaborate from different pockets around the world through digital channels such as Hangouts or HipChat.

Contemporary ideas like this nurture a modern and progressive work environment where employees can exchange ideas and flourish. Sometimes the smallest changes to company culture make a huge difference in staff development and creative output, and when it comes to digital marketing, change is a must.

By taking the time to identify knowledge gaps and invest in company-wide training solutions, as well as niche educational resources and a platform for sharing, an organization will develop and grow over time.

Embedding a learning mindset into an organization's key values means the importance of relevant skills will be weaved into the make-up of every employee. Above all, digital education must be continuous, as well as consistent.

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